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Examples of Primary Sources Related to World War II

Tips for Finding Primary Sources

  • Examine secondary sources on your topic carefully - look at the footnotes and bibliographies for primary documents mentioned there; examine the text of the secondary sources for mention of key reports, pieces of legislation or other primary documents you can look for; look for the names of important organizations or historical figures who may have created primary documents on your topic.
  • When searching FOR collections of primary sources - usually via Google - include a term that might be used to describe an online primary source collection, such as: primary sources, primary documents, or use specific terms: letters, correspondence, diaries, posters, etc.
  • Used advanced search options where possible - limit searches by DATE, or search for keywords in the TITLE of the source.
  • Think of who might have collected the type of primary source you are looking for, then search that specific website e.g. historic
    British government documents? Search the British National Archives website.

  • Evaluate the host of the source carefully - is the document legitimate? See the American Library Association's advice on how to tell.
  • Plan ahead - primary source research can be very time consuming.

Primary Source Collections

Online Primary Source Collections
Print and Electronic Primary Sources via MRU's LibrarySearch Tool
  • Try MRU's LibrarySearch (Search for articles, books, & more box on the the Library homepage).
  • Add the term sources to your search, or use specific terms to describe a type of primary source: letters, correspondence, diaries, posters, etc. These are the tags  or subject headings used by. libraries to describe primary sources. 
  • Sample primary source search, note the use of the drop-down menus in the advanced search. 
  • OR use the LibrarySearch side panel to limit by resource type to newspapers


More Primary Source Collections

For more exhaustive lists of recommended primary source collections, try the following sections of this research guide:

Secondary Sources: Find books and journal articles in LibrarySearch

Use the MRU LibrarySearch tool - the search box on the library homepage - to find information in all formats (books, journal articles, videos, 

LibrarySearch Tips
  • Log in with your MRU credentials for best results
  • Use the sidebar options to refine your search (e.g. limit results to only relevant subjects, or to preferred resource type, e.g., books).
  • Use the advanced search to search for important terms in the subject or title fields on the drop-down menus.
  • Limit results to only peer-reviewed sources to find only scholarly journal articles.
  • "Pinning" items allows you to return to them later, if you have logged in.

Journal Article Databases for War History

Discover Books and Articles Beyond MRU

  • Google Scholar - great for discovering journal articles. Make sure you adjust the "library links" settings to search MRU's collection.
  • WorldCat - searches library catalogues across North America. An excellent tool for discovery books beyond MRU's collection.
  • interlibrary loan - borrow items not owned by MRU via interlibrary loan service. 

Managing Your Research Sources

Being able to organize your thoughts and navigate large collections of sources/references as you are researching is an important skill. Each researcher must choose the approach that works best for them.

Citation management software products like Mendeley and Zotero (amongst many others) are automated tools that assist researchers in managing their research sources. They allow you to store and manage your references/sources, create citations and bibliographies, and take notes on your sources. See the tabs here for advice on which one might be a match for you. 

Many researchers use less technical methods very effectively - cue cards and handwriting, simpler software such as Word or Excel, or combinations of several methods. You should pick the one that is right for you.

This guide offers some examples and advice on the benefits of each method. 

Reasons to consider Mendeley:

  • Your research consists mainly of pdfs. 
  • Mendeley works well with Chrome and Safari and has a desktop version
  • Cloud storage
  • Mendeley has very well developed social collaboration tools. For example, you can find citations from similar users and search within its crowd-sourced research database
  • Desktop version is installed on all publicly accessible computers at MRU
  • Zotero works better if your research is both html and pdf. Often this is the choice for researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Zotero works well with Firefox. It also has a standalone desktop application
  • Cloud storage
  • Allows easy citation additions from websites like Amazon
  • Well liked interface for tagging and writing notes to accompany citations

If you are not interested in learning a new software product, you might want to consider a more familiar program to help you organize your thoughts and sources. Below are two simple examples.

How I Use Excel to Manage My Literature Review - One researcher explains how she used Excel to manage her PhD literature review. 

Scholarly Research Log - This is a simple, MS Word table based method of keeping track of your sources and thoughts. This could be expanded to create a separate document for each source you read, where you house citation information and your research notes. 

Tips for file management: 

- Establish a systematic way of naming your digital files. You should be able to tell what is in the file without having to open it. 

- Include dates in file names. Be consistent in your approach - e.g., YYYY-MM-DD 

- Include versions in the file name when you begin to draft your paper - e.g., draft1;. draft5

- BACK UP YOUR WORK. Using Google Drive or your MRU H-Drive is a good strategy for avoiding data loss. 

Search Vocabulary for War Research

Using effective search terms is an important part of finding relevant sources.

  • Avoid using slang terms or abbreviations, e.g., WWII
  • Experiment with various terms, e.g., World War Two, Second World War, World War II
  • Libraries use specific subject tags or headings to describe the items they own. The heading used to describe World War II is World War 1939 - 1945. Using it as a search term can improve your results. 

Need Help?

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Alice Swabey
Drop-in help Mondays 12-2 at the Library Service Desk. Appointments available via Google Meet or in-person. Email help is also available.