What is a Source Document?

The following are definitions of Source (Primary) documents from several institutions:

Primary source documents are original materials. They are from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. They are usually the first formal appearance of results in physical, print or electronic format. They present original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information.

A primary source is original, firsthand information. It hasn’t been interpreted, analyzed, condensed, or changed. It can be in the form of a creative work, diary, speech, letter, interview, news film footage, autobiography, photograph, official record, historical document. It can be an email written by a researcher to a colleague which includes data from an experiment. It can be a professor’s lecture. It can be a newspaper article written at the time of an event or the transcript of a television report of an event. It could even be a tweet or other dispatch via a social media outlet like facebook, as in the case of the events surrounding the “Arab Spring” or, more locally, in the case of the military jet crash in April 2012 in Virginia Beach, or the August 2011 earthquake in Virginia.

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event.

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

Primary sources are original materials that have not been altered or distorted in any way. Information for which the writer has no personal knowledge is not primary, although it may be used by historians in the absence of a primary source. In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic

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