How To Write A Bibliography For Primary Sources

General Guidelines | Examples

General Guidelines

By carefully documenting your sources, you acknowledge intellectual debts and provide readers with information about the materials you consulted during your research. Methods for citing primary sources (e.g., archival and manuscript collections) differ from those for published works. The discipline in which you are writing and class requirements will determine the citation system you should use.

Typical elements of a citation include: document title, document date, location information, collection title, collection number, and repository name.  For primary sources published online, a citation would include: the author, document title or a description, document date, title of the website, reference URL, and date accessed. Elements of a citation are usually listed from the most specific to the most general.  For examples of online primary source citations, please consult our Primary Sources on the Web citation page.

The following citation guidelines for primary sources are based on those in the Chicago Manual of Style, which you should consult for more detailed information.[1] Chicago distinguishes between citation systems for notes and bibliographies. In a footnote or endnote, the main element of a primary source citation is usually a specific item, which is cited first. If the specific item lacks a formal title, you may create one (e.g., photograph, interview, or minutes). Descriptive titles of this kind are not usually enclosed in quotation marks or italicized.

Include information about the specific location of an item in a collection by designating box and folder numbers. For example:

39. J.H. Campbell to James Groppi, Oct. 11, 1969, box 11, folder 1, James Groppi Papers, Milwaukee Mss EX, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Subsequent citations of the same item, or items from the same collection, may be shortened for the reader’s convenience. The writer announces the use of short forms in a parenthetical statement at the end of the first citation, as follows:

39. J.H. Campbell to James Groppi, Oct. 11, 1969, box 11, folder 1, James Groppi Papers, Milwaukee Mss EX, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department (hereafter cited as Groppi Papers).

40. Sermon, Aug. 10, 1969, box 15, folder 8, Groppi Papers.

In a bibliography, the main element is usually the title of the collection in which the specific item may be found, the author(s) of the items in the collection, or the repository of the collection. Specific items are not usually mentioned in a bibliography. We recommend using the collection title as the main element of the citation. If the collection title includes a personal name, we recommend placing the last name first for the reader’s convenience. For example:

Groppi, James, Papers. Milwaukee Mss EX. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Archives Department staff will gladly provide further guidance on citing primary sources in your research papers.

Examples of Citations for Items from the Archives Department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

Note Forms

41. Diary, 1899, box 3, vol. 4, John Johnston Family Papers, Milwaukee Mss BL, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

42. Scrapbook, 1928-1935, box 31, Milwaukee Public Schools, Department of Municipal Recreation and Community Education Scrapbooks, UWM Mss 151, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

43. Minutes, Jan. 9, 1956, box 2, folder 1, Jewish Family and Children’s Service Records, Milwaukee Mss 87, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

44. Photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Simon Kander, undated, box 2, folder 1, Lizzie Black Kander Papers, Milwaukee Mss DN, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

45. Norman Adelman, interview by Michael A. Gordon, May 14, 2008, Oral History Interviews of the March on Milwaukee Oral History Project, UWM Mss Collection 281, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.[2]

46. Boycott of MacDowell School construction site, Dec. 8, 1965, Daily footage newsfilm, Milwaukee Journal Stations Records, Milwaukee Mss Collection 203, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

47. WTMJ-TV, news film clip of Martin Luther King speaking at UW-Milwaukee (2 of 2), Nov. 23, 1965, March On Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project, accessed June 8, 2010,,941.

Bibliographic Entries

Jewish Family and Children’s Service Records. Milwaukee Mss 87. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Johnston, John, Family Papers. Milwaukee Mss BL. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Kander, Lizzie Black, Papers. Milwaukee Mss DN. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Milwaukee Journal Stations Records. Milwaukee Mss Collection 203. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Milwaukee Public Schools, Department of Municipal Recreation and Community Education Scrapbooks. UWM Mss 151. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

Oral History Interviews of the March on Milwaukee Oral History Project. UWM Mss Collection 281. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Archives Department.

March On Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. index.cfm.


1. Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 710-715. Examples also available here with campus subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style Online.

2. Note that Chicago provides specific guidelines for citing interviews and personal communications (705-707). Examples are available for both unpublished interviews and personal communications with campus subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style Online.

The Chicago Manual of Style is the style most commonly used by professional historians when they write and publish their work. Currently, the NHD Contest Rule Book allow citations in Chicago or MLA Style, but this resource focuses on Chicago Style.

As you complete your research, you should sort your research into primary and secondary sources. For complete definitions of primary and secondary sources, as well a complete set of the Contest Rules, go to

Building Your Annotated Bibliography

You should build your bibliography as you conduct your research. Simply put, if you wait until the end of your project, this task will be messy, confusing, and complicated. It is easy to forget sources, mix up one source with another, and make simple mistakes. Let us start by citing a simple source together.

When you start citing, you have two options available. Option one is to create a bibliography on your own. Option two is to use NoodleTools, a web-based program that will help you create a polished, accurate annotated bibliography and also keep track in note cards of the quotes and paraphrases and where you found them in your sources. Since it is saved on a server, you do not have to worry about a water bottle exploding in your backpack and your notes getting soaked—the materials are always there when you log into the computer or via your tablet.

Let’s say that I am researching the Panama Canal, and I found Edmund Morris’ book about President Theodore Roosevelt called Theodore Rex. While I will skim the book to get a sense of the author's purpose and argument, I want to use the Table of Contents or Index to focus in on the section that relates to my research. Using the index, I can jump to the section of the book where President Roosevelt is approached by Philippe Bunau-Varilla about a plan to get control of the canal that a French company began digging.

To cite a book, I need five key elements:

  • The name(s) of the author(s)
  • The complete title of the book
  • The city where it was published
  • The name of the company or university that published the book
  • The most recent copyright date of the book.

If I am doing this on my own, I would list it like this:

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.

Citing Sources in NHD Historical Papers

When writing an NHD paper, you have two options on how to cite your sources. This section will address creating footnotes. Please note that it is also appropriate to use the parenthetical references described in the website section as well. Either is appropriate, but choose one way and be consistent with that method.

Most historians use footnotes when they write a paper, article, or book. Footnotes allow you to keep track of your sources without interrupting the flow of the paper. If my paper about Theodore Roosevelt and his foreign policy regarding Germany contains the text:

Roosevelt “has seen the crisis coming for eleven months.”[1] He feared that Germany might invade Venezuela if they did not pay off their debts.

Tip: Allow your word processor to insert the footnote for you. It will do it automatically, and if you insert one into the middle of the paper, it will automatically renumber it for you. You can find the “insert footnote” button in the reference section of the menu. If you need step-by-step directions, just go to the help menu and type in “insert footnotes.”

The FIRST time that I use this source (in this case it is a book) in a footnote, my full footnote would look like this (see footnote number one below). The footnote tells us the author, the title of the book, the basic publishing information, as well as the page (or range of pages) where my quote can be found. It is similar to your citation in your bibliography, but not exactly the same.

If you use this source again later in your paper, it is much easier. Assume that later in my paper I write the sentence:

Roosevelt knew that he had to take a strong stand and argued for “crude force” to keep the Germans out of Latin America.[2]

As you can see in footnote 2 below, I just need to include a shortened footnote with the author’s last name, the title of the book, and the page number or page range where I found my information.

See the next page for examples of how to footnote the most common types of sources that you will use in your NHD paper. NoodleTools will provide you with a full and shortened footnote for each source.

[1] Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 177.

[2] Morris, Theodore Rex, 178.

But what if I put it in my own words…do I have to cite it then? YES.

Paraphrasing is when you use your own words to convey someone else’s ideas.

Let’s use the Lusitania article as an example. It is perfectly appropriate to write in your paper that:
The Lusitania was hit by a German submarine at 2:33 pm, and the news of the sinking was published around the world. A fishing fleet was called to help rescue as many passengers as possible in the North Atlantic.[3]

Block Quotes

If you have a quote that is more than two lines across the page, then it should be converted to a block quote. Please note that this kind of quote should be used very infrequently, but it can be effective. A block quote should look like this:

The Constitution of the United States defined the weakness of the Articles of Confederation in the one-sentence preamble,

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.[4]

This sentence, memorized by many…

Block quotes are single-spaced, tabbed on one half inch from the left side of the page, and do not need quotation marks around them. They should always have a footnote at the end attributing the source. After the quote, continue typing using double-spacing.

Do I have to cite every sentence of my paper?

No, please don’t. Often you find that a series of sentences (or even an entire paragraph) is based on content from a single source. When that happens, signal to your reader that the following information came from a certain source and then cite it once at the end of the last sentence. Also note that your thesis statement and your arguments should be your original work, and should not be credited to another author.

What if all of the information, quotes and paraphrases, in one paragraph, comes from one source? How do I cite that?

Just cite once, at the end of the paragraph.

[3] “Liner Lusitania Sunk by German Submarine Fleet Rushes to Aid,” Washington Times, May 7, 1915.

[4] Constitution of the United States of America.

Citing Sources in Exhibits and Websites

When you cite in exhibits or websites, you do need to credit your sources, and brief citations do NOT count toward your word count. You just add the minimal amount of information that would allow the viewer to find the source in your annotated bibliography.

Print sources should be cited with the author, the title, and a date (when available.) An example would be:

“There is danger…they have still far to go. It is for the Woman’s Party to decide whether there is any way in which it can serve in the struggle which lies ahead to remove the remaining forms of woman’s subordination” (Alice Paul, The Suffragist, 1921)

If I chose to use this quote, then I would expect to find a citation that would show where this text came from (I might have found it in a book, on a website, or in an article) and where I might go if I wanted the full text of what Alice Paul had to say in 1921.

Visual Sources (photographs, art, maps, charts, graphs, etc.) are cited in a similar manner. You want to mention the content (who/what is in the picture), give a date if available, and where YOU found the image. Please note that Google and other search engines are NOT viable sources. Saying that you got your picture from Google is like saying that you got your quote from a library. Just like you need to tell us which book your quote came from in the library, you also need to tell us which website made this image available to you.

Citing Sources in Performances

When you are creating a performance or a documentary, you do not need to actively cite sources during your presentation, because it would disrupt the flow of your product.

There are times when you would want to make a reference to a source, especially when you are referencing primary source material. It would be relevant to mention in a performance, “I wrote a letter to King George demanding that my grievances be addressed….” A judge would then expect to find a letter or a series of letters that you found in your research and cited in your bibliography. There is no need to stop to verbally cite sources—if the judges have any questions, they can address that in the Q&A segment at the end of your performance.

Citing Sources in Documentaries

You are NOT required to cite images as they appear on the screen. You may add tags to the bottom of the screen to help an image or video clip make sense. For example, you might want to add a name of a speaker, or a relevant historical date during a particular video clip or still image.

At the end of the documentary, you should include a list of relevant audio and visual sources that you included in your documentary. This is not a repeat of your bibliography. Just name the major locations of your images. A typical list might include images from the British Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, NBC News, or the Holocaust Museum. Again, if the judges have a question about a particular visual or audio selection, they can address that in the Q&A segment at the end of your documentary.

Alice Paul, 1918, Library of Congress
*This citation is REQUIRED and does NOT count toward the word limit.
Alice Paul was responsible for the campaign for women’s’ suffrage and the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment.
*This citation DOES count toward the word limit because it shows analysis and interpretation.

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