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Primary Sources: Citing Sources

This guide is an introduction to primary sources research.

About Citations

Citation style varies based on academic or professional discipline.  In general, many manuscript collections and archives material qualifies as unpublished material.  Follow the guidelines of your preferred style guide for unpublished material and then list the name of the collection (or record group, if using archival documents), the box number where the material can be found, and the name of the institution where the collection resides. 

If the material is published, such as a pamphlet or book, follow the guidelines for published material.

Citing Primary Sources

Citing Sources Contained in Manuscript Collections

In general, citations for manuscript sources should include the following:

  • author;
  • title;
  • date of publication (or creation, in the case of personal letters);
  • box and file number (if applicable, or if the collection is large);
  • name of collection;
  • name and location of repository.

Notes within the text will include citations for specific materials, such as letters, pamphlets, or reports that are quoted within the paper.  These citations may include only a partial reference source with a full citation to the original source being listed at the end of the paper (Works Cited).  The citation should include enough information to allow another researcher to locate the original source document. 

Bibliographies or "List of Works Cited" will contain only the name of the collection, rather than a list of individual items in the collection that you consulted. 

Here are some samples of quoting an archived letter using in-text and Works Cited formats for several style guides.  See the "Useful Links" tab for additional information.

APA Style

APA, In-Text Note: (Warren, R.P., Warren to Brainard Cheney, November 13, 1939)

APA, Works Cited: Warren, R.P. (1939, November 13).  [Letter to Brainard Cheney].  Brainard and Frances Neel Cheney Papers (Box 16, File 20). Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Chicago Style

Chicago, in-text note: Robert Penn Warren to Brainard Cheney, 13 November 1939.  Brainard and Frances Neel Cheney Papers, Box 16 File 20,   Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.

Chicago, Works Cited: Brainard and Frances Neel Cheney Papers.  Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.  Nashville, Tennessee.

MLA Style

MLA, in-text note: Robert Penn Warren, letter to Brainard Cheney, 13 November 1939, Brainard and Frances Neel Cheney Papers, Box 16 File 20, Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

MLA, Works Cited:  Warren, Robert Penn.  Letter to Brainard Cheney.  13 November 1939.   Brainard and Frances Neel Cheney Papers, Box 16 File 20, Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Citing Sources Contained in University Archives

Institutional archives are organized into Record Groups, collections of historical documents created by a specific department within the organization.  Each Record Group has a distinctive number and name, example: Record Group 300 Chancellor's Office.  Here are some sample citations for archival material:

APA Style

APA, In-Text Note: (Davidson, D., Davidson to Edwin Mims, August 10, 1950)

APA, Works Cited: Davidson, D. (1950, August 10).  [Letter to Edwin Mims].  Record Group 510 College of Arts and Sciences (Box 2011, File 23). Vanderbilt University Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Chicago Style

Chicago, in-text note: Donald Davidson to Edwin Mims, 10 August 1935.  Record Group 510 College of Arts and Sciences, Box 2011 File 23, Vanderbilt  University Archives.

Chicago, Works Cited: Record Group 510 College of Arts and Sciences, Box 2011 File 23. Vanderbilt University Archives.  Nashville, Tennessee.

MLA Style

MLA, in-text note: Donald Davidson, letter to Edwin Mims, 10 August 1950, Record Group 510 College of Arts and Sciences, Box 2011 File 23, Vanderbilt University Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

MLA, Works Cited:  Davidson, Donald.  Letter to Edwin Mims.  10 August 1950.   Record Group 510 College of Arts and Sciences, Box 2011 File 23, Vanderbilt University Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.