The Lowdown on Citing Primary Sources

To have a quality research paper, it is incredibly important to include relevant sources as evidence that supports your ideas. While including references to sources such as books, journal articles, and newspapers is helpful, they do not represent the holistic picture of your research topic. Including references to primary sources, as well as secondary, can take your research to the next level.


Whether creating an annotated bibliography or composing in-text citations, Cite This For Me is a great resource for getting your references right.


Simply put, primary sources are sources that are firsthand or contemporary to your topic, and can include things such as diaries, letters, maps, and the like. So how do you make accurate citations for these kinds of sources? Read on for information on creating references for primary sources in some of the most popular citation styles.

The most important thing to remember when including references to primary sources in your paper is that the overall goal is to include enough information in your references so that, if needed, your reader can locate the primary source themselves. Here is some of the information you should look out for and consider when choosing a primary source:

  1. The name of the author/creator/illustrator, etc.
  2. The title of the source. A description can be used if there is no title.
  3. The date that the source was written or created.
  4. Information about where you accessed the source, such as a database or website.
  5. Collection name, if there is one.
  6. Box and folder, if the source was housed in a place that uses such a system, like a library or archive.
  7. The name of the library or archive that holds the original source.

Here is an example for a citation for a photograph as a primary source in Harvard referencing*:

Wilson, B. (1925) Marcus Garvey enters federal prison in Atlanta. Available at: http://www.exhibitions.nypl.org.

*These guidelines apply to Harvard-Cite Them Right 10th edition

Here is how you would cite the same photograph in APA style

Wilson, B. (Photographer). (1925). Marcus Garvey enters federal prison in Atlanta [photograph]. New York, NY: New York Public Library. Retrieved from http://www.exhibitions.nypl.org.

Depending on the source type (e.g., website, interview, government publication, recording, etc.), the format of the citation will change slightly. The citing tools at CiteThisForMe.com can help! Along with Harvard and APA, you can choose to cite sources in MLA formatting, Chicago format, and thousands of other citation styles.