The Interplay of Primary and Secondary Sources

  • If you're searching for primary sources on a topic, one good place to look is a secondary source that cites original texts, manuscripts, and archives.
  • Conversely, published editions of primary sources will often cite secondary sources for added context, commentary, and history.
  • In particular, critical editions of literary works often have extensive commentary and analysis.

A good starting point for finding both primary and secondary sources is a reference work or bibliography. You can find reference works in HOLLIS by combining your subject with keywords like Encyclopedia, Guide, Dictionary, Handbook, Companion, or Introduction.

One e-resource that combines reference entries with robust bibliographies is Oxford Bibliographies. Another resource, Oxford Reference Online, lets you search across hundreds of reliable reference sources.

A Few Extra Tips

► To find subject headings for browsing, bring up the HOLLIS record for a book you already know about; or do a keyword search for your topic, such as Fallout shelters or Zambian rock music. (This is how I found some of the subject headings suggested on the following pages.)

► Use the Advanced Search in HOLLIS to combine a subject heading with other keywords, e.g.

  • Subject Basketball + Keyword Filipino
  • Subject Fallout shelters + Keyword gender
  • Subject Public housing + Keywords War on drugs
  • Subject Radio broadcasting + Keyword Zambia

► If the HOLLIS record for a book doesn't tell you enough about its contents, try searching for the book in Google Books. Even if the entire text is not available, you can often get a substantial preview, and search by keyword to see if the book mentions a particular topic.

► When you browse, look for subjects with these subheadings: Diaries • Interviews • Sources • Archival resources • Newspapers • Personal Narratives •  Biography • Pictorial Works • Comic Books • Caricatures and cartoons

► For novels, plays, and stories about a topic, look for subject headings with these subheadings: Fiction • In Literature • Juvenile fiction • Drama • Poetry • Literary collections

Email me!

Profile Photo
Steve Kuehler