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A Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

How to Ask a Reference Question--Know What You
Want and Get What You Want in Return

If you need to contact a library about a manuscript collection or a research topic, make sure you are prepared to ask informed questions. Libraries that collect historical materials have significant amounts of both secondary and primary source materials related to a particular person or topic. Therefore, if you ask a broad unfocused question like, can you send me everything you have on Bunker Hill, you may get a sour response. It is impossible to send everything; in some cases the materials would fill up a truck! On the other hand, if you use the reference sources described in this guide, do some research and find specific citations to information you need before you call to inquire about them, the person at the library will be better able to assist you. Knowing how to get from a reference source, to a secondary source, to the footnotes of a secondary source, to a primary source is the most useful skill to have. You may want to refer to The Research Process section of this guide to learn more about the method of doing research.

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Introduction | Essay | Timeline | 10 Accounts | Biographies
Maps & Views | Research Guide
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