Skip to Main Content

Political Science

General Tips

You might be asked to use primary sources for your paper. What is a primary source? The answer is, it depends on the context and discipline in which it is being used.. In science and some social science disciplines, papers with empirical research are referred to as primary sources. Some common primary sources for political science students are:

  • Journals, diaries, and memoirs.
  • Speeches.
  • Government documents like hearings, committee reports, the Congressional Record.
  • Statistics, opinion polls, data.
  • Oral histories and interviews.
  • Photographs and films.
  • Posters and street art.
  • Pamphlets and other ephemera.
  • Websites and social media posts.


Search Strategies

Just like there's no single definition of "primary source," there isn't one way to search for them. Some tips:

  • The library subscribes to a number of databases containing primary sources. You can identify these by going to the databases tab from the library home page, and searching databases by content.
  • Many books in the library will contain primary sources: collections of documents, interviews, memoirs. You can use the "genre" filter from Catalyst to hone in on the kind of material you want or even try using it in a search, e.g. "Vietnam oral histories".
  • Often you can find digital archives of papers and other primary sources. Try uncovering these through a Google search (using the terms "digital archives, digitized, archives" etc. or by following other scholars' citations.
  • Use the literature that you have to identify sources. If you find a scholarly article helpful on your topic, what evidence did they use and how did they access it? Oftentimes, scholars will reference an archive or source.
  • You can always reach out to your librarian for help identifying primary sources for your topic. 

FOIA Resources

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows for individuals to request that specific federal classified documents be made fully or partially available. FOIA requests and disclosures are great resources for understanding the the operations of government. Below are some sites that collect FOIA materials. Information transparency laws at the state level differ state by state.