A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
Table of Contents | Reference Sources | Exhibit Introduction
Previous Page Next Page
A Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

Using Secondary Sources as a Reference Tool

Reference sources have limitations on the amount of information they can provide. The next step in the research process is to examine the secondary sources that you found listed in the reference sources you consulted and recorded on your note cards.

Once you locate the secondary sources, you don't need to read the source from cover to cover. A 300 page definitive history of Abigail Adams would take you two months to read. Instead, begin by looking at the Table of Contents, Bibliography and Notes sections of the source. You should examine chapters that are relevant to your research and pay close attention to the footnotes provided by the author. Footnotes are references to supplemental information about the text and can include citations to documents or secondary sources the author consulted in his research. Each note is given a number, which is embedded within the text of the book. The numbers correspond to either a Notes section in the back of the book or a footnote at the bottom of the page on which the text appears. The information presented in footnotes provides connections for locating new information sources. If an author mentions a citation in a footnote that is related to your research, follow up on it, locate the source, and examine it. Tracking footnotes is an integral part of the research process. By jumping from citations in footnotes to the sources they refer to, you will uncover vital pieces of information related to your research that you may not find elsewhere.

 
Table of Contents | Reference Sources | Exhibit Introduction
Previous Page Next Page
Introduction | Essay | Timeline | 10 Accounts | Biographies
Maps & Views | Research Guide
© Copyright 2003. The Massachusetts Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Terms and Conditions.