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UNIV 330: Cal Poly Lands

How to Cite Primary Sources

Citing primary sources properly is important, because the materials found in an archive or special collections repository are often unique and so cannot be referred to elsewhere. Persons trying to locate your sources at a later date will need to know exactly where and how to retrieve them. The particular form of your citation will depend upon the citation style you adhere to (e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association, etc.). 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 and Archives, Robert E. Kennedy Library, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA


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


Ex: Robert E. Kennedy Presidential 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: Presidents/Speeches


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


Ex: Box 1, Folder 3, "Speeches 1967-1968"


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


Ex: Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., April 5, 1968.


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, librarian, or your professor for assistance. They are there to help you!