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How to Cite a Primary Source


A primary source is material that is original to its creator and publication. Often, the material is not viewable anywhere else but at the research location like an archival resource. Performances, interviews, films and other live pieces of work use primary source citation. In general, a primary source citation provides the author's name, title of work and location so the reader or subsequent researcher can use the citation to locate your primary source. Providing accurate citations gives credit to the original creator as well as identifies where the item is stored for factchecking and future research. Citation styles for primary sources include American Political Science Association, American Psychological Association, Chicago/Turabian, Council of Biology Editors and Modern Language Association.

General Primary Source Guide

Visit Library of Congress' website, and follow the guidelines for citing online historical archives through Chicago or MLA style. For example, the Library of Congress shows how to cite a website by starting with the author's last name, first name and middle initial, if available. If the website has no author, use the site owner's name. The citation also requires the title of site (italicized), editor of site, publication information, name of sponsoring institution or organization, electronic address and date of access in parentheses.

Cite a primary source by including the information of where it is held, the title and collection or catalog number, the series number and title, the box and folder name and the name of the document itself. For example, to cite a repository, the citation must include the name of the access point (such as the library or center name) and where the archives are located (such as the building name).

Cite an archival source with the following model: Author's name, "title of publication" (location of publication: name of publication, year printed), name of collection, series number, name of access point (university library/government office), name of building or college, (city, state).

Cite according to your documentation style. Duke University provides citation for multiple primary sources with examples in every documentation style (see the Resources).

Chicago/Turabian Style

Create a citation for a performance in Chicago/Turabian format: Performer's last name, first name. Title of performance (italicized). Name of theater or building, city, date of viewing.

Cite a film or video as follows: Director's last name, first name. Title of film or video (italicized). Produced by producer's name and directed by name of director. Length of viewing. Production company, copyright year. Film or videocassette.

Cite a government document as follow: Title of document (italicized). Congress name, session number, year, volume section number.

Follow the formatting rules for first and second references according to traditional Chicago/Turabian style. See the Resources for a full category list of other primary source in text citations.

MLA Style

Cite an interview tyou held with your primary source as follows: Interviewee's last name, first name. Personal interview. Date of interview.

Cite a film as follows: Title of film (italicized). Screenplay by name. Dir. name of director. Perf. name of actors and actresses. Production company name, year of release. However, if your paper focuses on director, start the citation like this: Director's last name, first name, dir. Title of film (italicized) ... If you focus on the actor's performance, cite the actor first: Actor's name, first name, perf. Title of film (italicized) ...

Cite an original article in print as: Author's last name, first name. Title of article (in quotes). Title of journal (italicized) (publication year): page numbers.

About the Author

Karen Adams has been writing professionally since 2003. At the University of Florida, she worked on the school's newspaper while earning her Bachelor of Arts in English. She contributes to many different publications regularly. Currently she lives and works in Florida and is a member of Florida University's Fiction Collective and "Tea Magazine."

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