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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

ENGL 202B: Writing About the Self: Home

Your assignment

The following is excerpted from the assignment description:

"This assignment represents a culminating project involving library research and fieldwork in order to investigate some aspect of family heritage and your identity in relation to broader cultural values, beliefs, traditions, practices, and/or institutions."

"Using the research portfolio as a basis, the writer should synthesize and integrate source materials to form an essay “around” 15 pages long.  The paper should be sectioned with analytic section headings. It should integrate a minimum of eight primary and eight secondary sources, including at least three personal 20-30 minute interviews, counting as three separate primary sources of information.  A survey of ten or more people may be utilized as one additional primary source of information. Observations of one or more sites might also be used; each observation should last about 20-30 minutes. Likewise, as noted previously, diaries, photographs, and other artifacts may be incorporated into the research as primary sources.  Fieldwork data should be corroborated by library research, i.e., secondary sources."

Please see the assignment description for complete details about the project.

Types of sources

Primary sources (evidence) Secondary sources (analysis) Tertiary sources (summaries)
  • Interviews
  • Photos
  • News articles
  • Survey data
  • Courthouse records
  • Memoirs or diaries
  • Ethnographic observation

See more examples below.

  • Articles in scholarly journals
  • Scholarly books
  • Articles collected in scholarly books

Secondary sources analyze the evidence provided by primary sources.

  • Articles in encyclopedias
  • Summary articles on websites

Tertiary sources summarize the information in secondary and primary sources.

Don’t cite tertiary sources. 

⟵ Work backward 

More examples of primary sources

Type Where to get them
Artworks and handicrafts (e.g. quilts) From family members. A photograph of the object is usually sufficient. You can also find photos of artworks on museum websites.
Cemetery headstones Find a Grave or the USGenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project or view the headstones yourself.
Census data and other sites. Census data can be difficult to sort through. We recommend getting a librarian’s help.

Courthouse records Some records are available on courthouse websites. For other records, contact the courthouse clerk.
Economic data Government agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The library provides a guide to finding statistical data.
Genealogical records

Ancestry Library Edition (a genealogical database that UMW subscribes to).

Interviews Conduct interviews yourself. Also, interviews with famous people are available on the Internet. Try searching for a person’s name and the word “interview.”
Newspaper articles Library newspaper databases or Google News Archive.
Personal diaries or letters From family members. Diaries of famous people are sometimes found in libraries.
Photographs You can take photographs yourself, or get them from family members. You can also find photos in newspapers (see above), or in historical society archives. Another option is a Google Image search, but be careful – not all results are trustworthy.
Survey data You can conduct surveys of small groups yourself. Data from surveys of large groups is often available online, either from government websites or from private organizations such as Gallup or the Pew Research Center. The library provides a guide to finding statistical data.

On the Internet. Try Google Videos or Bing Videos.

Your own observations Conduct observations yourself and record what you see.

These are just examples. There are many types of primary sources that are not on this list.


Use Quest to search the library's physical collection and the contents of most of the library's electronic databases.

Most of what you'll find in Quest is secondary sources, but you may also find some primary or tertiary sources.

If you find a physical book in Quest, write down the call number and use the call number to find the book on the shelf. Here's an explanation of how our call numbers work.

Quest Logo
Search articles, books, and more...

My presentation to your class

Here are the PowerPoint slides for my presentation to your class. Click in the lower right corner to expand the slides to full screen.



Research and Instruction Librarian

Other guides

There are research guides for every subject taught at UMW. Use the guide that's most relevant to your topic. For example, if you're researching a family tradition, use the Anthropology guide. If you're researching an ancestor, use the History guide. If you're researching a religious tradition, use the Religion guide.

The Citing Resources guide gives you examples of perfectly-formatted citations. Zotero is a free app that keeps track of the sources you've found, and generates citations without any typing.