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Citation Style Guides: Primary Sources

This guide provides information on the major forms of citation styles.

Gelman's Special Collections Research Center

(202) 994-7549

Special Collections Research Center
Melvin Gelman Library
2130 H St., NW, Suite 704
Washington, DC 20052
(202) 994-7549
Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 AM - 5 PM

How to Cite Primary Sources

The materials found in an archive or special collections repository are often unique and so cannot be referred to elsewhere. The particular form of your citation will depend upon your citation style. In general, citations progress from the broadest to the narrowest form of information, or vice versa. The basic elements that should appear in your citation are:

  • Repository: Where is the item held?

Ex: Special Collections Research Center, Gelman Library, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

  • Collection or Record Group: Include the title and the collection or catalog number.

Ex: MS2007 Grace Cavalieri Papers

  • Series and/or Subseries (if applicable): Archival collections can consist of hundreds of boxes and are often organized into groups of similar records related by creator, activity, form, topic, etc. Include the series number and title.

Ex: Series II: Correspondence

  • Box and Folder Number (if applicable): If there is a title written on the folder heading, include this information as well.

Ex: Box 3 Folder 15 "Submissions, 1972-1973"

  • The document itself: Include the creator, page, section, and date information where necessary.

Ex: Letter to Mary Ellen Long, January 12, 1970.

When you are at the archives, it is a good idea to note down information from the finding aid or guide to the collection and from labels on the folder and box - even if not all the information is required in the citation itself. Citing primary sources can be tricky. Never hesitate to ask the archivist, curator, librarian, or your professor for assistance.

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