Primary sources are original source materials created during the period being studied, original empirical research, or raw data. A researcher offers their own interpretation of primary sources to substantiate their claim.
Some examples of primary sources are:
- Original empirical research (scientific experiments)
- Government Documents (The Constitution, The National Security Strategy)
- Raw data (statistics, survey results)
- Correspondence (letters, emails, tweets)
- Laws and Statutes
- Artifacts (man-made objects such as pottery or tools)
- Realia (everyday objects)
- Official Records (meeting minutes, birth certificate)
- Original works of art and literature
- Oral histories
- Historical Newspapers
A primary source can be raw empirical data, but the significance of a source may also be for what it reveals, not necessarily because it is factually correct. Primary sources provide insight into a time, a place, a worldview, a groups' perspective, etc.. They are often associated with historical research (i.e., what can we glean about World War I through the letters soldiers sent home from the front). However, it could also be a YouTube video of a religious group. How the researcher engages with a source ultimately determines if it is primary or secondary. A news article may be treated as a primary source (e.g., analyzing media treatment of a topic) or secondary (e.g., citing a news article on the topic as a substantiating source).
Primary sources provide evidence and also allow us to apply meaning. They must be understood in the context of broader social, political, economic, and cultural realities. For example, a paper on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) could draw on a variety of primary source material: raw data (government expenditure numbers, casualty statistics, industry revenue), government documents (legislation, hearing transcripts), interviews of citizens affected by drone strikes, and/or opinion surveys. It is up to the researcher to put all the sources together and make a claim about what it all means for the problem or question they set out to answer.