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Turabian Bibliography Primary And Secondary Sources In Research

Dr. Jack E. Davis


The purpose of the research paper is to engage you in an exercise in which you will use library and archival resources, organize acquired material, reconstruct and analyze history while asking critical questions, and make an intelligent argument supported by your material. The exercise is intended to help develop research, writing, and analytical skills. The best papers will be those that ask critical questions, demonstrate originality, make clear and cogent arguments, and appear well organized.

The research paper must meet the length stated in the course syllabus, and it must be typed and double spaced. It must be historical in nature and contain a central thesis (or argument) of your own--not one borrowed from another source. A research paper is not simply reconstructing the contents of another source or a couple sources. It is a personal project that requires original ideas and approaches.

To understand better the meaning of a research paper and how to write one, consult Kate L. Turabian, Student's Guide for Writing College Papers. It is highly recommended you purchase the latest edition of this book.

You are required also to use both primary-source and secondary-source materials. Primary sources are original sources (e.g., personal papers, diaries, autobiographies, oral histories, government documents, editorials, and contemporaneous newspaper and magazine articles that are original accounts). Secondary sources are the research of others (e.g., biographies, textbooks, encyclopedias, scholarly articles, and books that are not an original account). As Turabian points out, "The distinction between primary and secondary sources is really that of first-hand and second-hand reports."(1)


Your paper must be properly documented with footnotes or endnotes and bibliography. Historians use the Chicago Manual of Style. Other styles of documentation, such as the MLA (Modern Language Association), are not suitable for a history research paper. Historians use footnotes (or endnotes) and a bibliography. Footnotes should follow a single sequence throughout the paper. (In other words, do not begin a new sequence with each page.) Notes should be placed at the bottom of each page (footnotes) or listed on a separate page at the end of the text (endnotes). Within the text, place the footnote reference (number) at the end of the sentence, and superscript the reference if your word processor has this capability. Do not break a sentence with a footnote reference.

You need to footnote any phrase or passage that is not in your own words, does not represent your own idea, or is not common knowledge. In other words, you must make it clear to the reader that you are not fabricating (or stealing) information. (For examples of footnoting style, see the attached sample page. Turabian is your best reference for the footnoting format of a range of sources.)

Do not quote excessively. Use your own words unless an author has stated something exceptionally eloquently or emphatically, or in a way that you cannot reconstruct in your own words.

The bibliography is attached to the end of the paper. It is not and is more than a "Works Cited" page. The bibliography should include every relevant source you consulted in conducting your research, whether or not you used that source in the text. You should divide the bibliography into "Primary Sources" and "Secondary Sources" subheadings. You may go as far as providing subheadings for newspapers, interviews, and public documents. The format for bibliographic citations differs from that of footnotes. (See sample page and consult Turabian.)


Do not even try it; it is easy to catch a plagiarist. Plagiarism is grounds for a failing grade, and it is illegal. For a definition of plagiarism, see Turabian. Essentially, you cannot use another writer's words or ideas without proper acknowledgment and pass them off as yours--whether intentionally or no.

Quoting without using quotation marks is plagiarism. Paraphrasing (changing a word or two and using the same sentence construction) is plagiarism--even when using a footnote. Again, your paper must represent your own original work.


The prospectus is a one-to-two-page summary of your proposed research topic. In the prospectus you should summarize the topic you will examine and state the central question you intend to address. The bibliography is a preliminary (i.e., not yet complete) list of the sources you will be using for your paper.

The purpose of the prospectus/bibliography is to demonstrate that you have settled on a research topic and are finding the sources you will need. The prospectus/bibliography in part is a preventative against procrastination.

Writing Tips

The paper should be written in third person and should use simple past tense. Do not use first-person "I." The paper is not about you. Once you have published a book and have established yourself as an authority, you may use the first person as much as you please.

Think of your audience as being one of your classmates. Do not take the reader's knowledge for granted. Explain points that are not common knowledge, and explain them concisely.

Refrain from excessive style and "big" words (they are often misused). The paper should be clearly and rigorously written, without metaphorical abstractions or ambiguities. You want to strive for forceful and authoritative language. Turgid prose and rambling sentences will not do the job.

The introductory paragraph has a specific purpose. In a concise way, it tells the reader what your paper is about and what historical question you are addressing. Spell that question out plainly and clearly.

Within the body of the paper, each paragraph should begin with a well-constructed topic sentence that is both transitional and directional. In other words, it should shift the reader from the previous paragraph and point him or her in a new direction. A new paragraph represents a change in thought or idea, and it should be fully developed. One-sentence paragraphs are fine for newspapers but not for history research papers. Everything in the paragraph should be related to the topic sentence.

Write in active voice. It conveys authority and reduces verbiage. Do not (don't) use contractions. Spell out verbs. For example, "it's" is not a possessive pronoun; it is a contraction. So it should not appear in your paper (it's bound to though).

Your paper should have a concluding paragraph that sums up what you discussed in the paper and that reiterates your central thesis in a conclusion.

Writing is like playing the piano; improvement requires practice. The best writers practice their art everyday. A highly recommended book that will help you with style is William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style.

Finally, proofread your paper--not once but three times. Those papers with excessive typos represent a poor effort and will earn a corresponding grade.

Writing History Objectively

The objective in historical writing is twofold: reconstructing history and interpreting history. Both should be done objectively. At the same time, you should present your paper in the form of a historical argument--a course of analysis aimed at demonstrating your interpretation and conclusion. That argument should not be political but intellectual.

Interpretation means to present according to your understanding. Interpretation, indeed, evolves from a personal viewpoint. But in writing history, interpretation should flow from an intellectual, not emotional, viewpoint. In other words, you should not be judgmental. Do not evaluate an event, a human action, or decision making in terms of being right or wrong, good or bad. Restrain yourself from using dogmatic and opinionated language.

Remember, the most powerful and convincing arguments avoid preaching; instead, they rest on a solid base of evidence not on rhetoric.

Good Luck!

Footnote and Bibliography Samples



1Rosalind Rosenberg, Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), 31-4.


Rosenberg, Rosalind. Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992.

Scholarly articles


2Linda K. Kerber, "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History," Journal of American History75 (June 1988), 9-39.


Kerber, Linda K. "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History." Journal of American History 75 (June 1988): 9-39.



3"Two Governors on Race Relations," Collier's (February 23, 1946): 94.


"Two Governors on Race Relations." Collier's (February 23, 1946): 94-95.


4Interview with Maria Arnold, by author, May 8, 1989.


Interviews by Author  *(this would be a sub heading within the bibliography folllowed by all the interviews you conducted)*

Arnold, Maria. May 8, 1989.

1. 1Kate L. Turabian, Student's Guide for Writing College Papers, 3rd ed., rev. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976), 4-5, fn.

This guide is based on The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) and provides only selected citation examples for commonly used sources, and of notes/bibliography style only. For more detailed information, directly consult a print copy or online version of the style manual available at the SFU Library and at the SFU Bookstore.

For the best printing results, use the printer-friendly PDF formatof this guide.

Secondary source (14.260)


To cite a book (Beauvoir's book) referenced in a journal article (Butler's)

To cite an article (Zukofsky's article) referenced in a book (Costello's book)



  • As the style manual notes, citing sources from a secondary source is not a recommended practice. Whenever possible, the original source should be located and fully cited.
  • In the footnote, start with the author and publication details of original work. Add the text "quoted in" and then add the author and publication details of the secondary work, the source you consulted. Make sure you use the correct format for a book or for an article (15.56).The original and the secondary source ust both appear in the Bibliography.

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