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Introduction to Primary Source Research: Evaluating & Using Primary Sources

Evaluating material

Along with secondary sources, newspapers are a good resource for providing context and corroborating information in the material you've been using. Where do the materials agree? Where do they disagree?

Keeping Track

When you’re going through the materials and you find things you want for your paper, you have to keep track. If you’re taking photos, be sure to either get the folder edge in the photo, so the pertinent information is in the photo, or take copious notes. It will be significantly easier to cite the material. Keeping track of where you found material is critical no matter where you’re researching - in the archives or using primary sources that are available on line. It can be very difficult to retrace your steps, so it is critical to keep track as you go along.

Photo managers like Tropy and apps Genius Scan can help you keep track of your material. Be sure to name the files something that will help you remember which collection, box, and folder the material was found in.


Paleography is the study of handwriting. While you’re using archival materials, you will undoubtedly come across a bunch of different types of handwriting – some hard to read, some not. You can sometimes figure out a difficult word just through context, but if you’re stumped, check out some of these tips.

Citing Material

Some repositories have a recommended format for citing their materials. While they may not work for the citation style you need to use, they contain  the information you'll need to cite the material correctly.

You'll want to take careful note of:

  • the title of the material
  • the collection name
  • the collection number or identifier
  • and the repository name

If you need help formatting your citations, check out How to Cite Archival Material from Dalhousie University, the Citing Records in the National Archives leaflet, and the Citation Guides made by WVU Librarians

The suggested citation for material held by the WVRHC is:

[Description and date of item], [Box/folder number], [Collection Name], [Collection Number], West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia. 


Want to learn more about copyright? Check out the Copyright for Students Guide