Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Primary Secondary Tertiary Research - Good Tips

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Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Research Sources

by Lisa Lickel

Every good book contains elements of truth and fiction. Even nonfiction is biased in the eye of the author who picks and chooses which facts to present and the way to present them. Fiction, though, must contain enough believability to offset the unbelievable. This is generally building the trust factor in order to persuade your reader to suspend his or her disbelief for you.

Typical research is gathered by primary and secondary resources, and occasional other means, tertiary and so forth, points of origin. It’s either the personal experience (primary/first hand), knowledge from the person who had the personal experience (still primary since you’re gathering from the primary source), or someone relaying the information from the person who had the personal experience (secondary source). Further removal from the original primary source of information is like playing the game of phone call where someone passes a message by whispering into the ear of the person next to him, who then passes on what he (thought/assumed) he heard to the next person and so on. Very often the end result has little to do with the original message. It can be similar to hand copying records from one generation to the next, or translating language from one lingua to another or one generation to another. You see how tiny but compounded both innocent and calculated or simple mistakes can cost an author his credibility.

Free Student JournalTo begin, make sure you’re ready to keep track of what you’re doing and how to get back there for reference when you’re writing.

Establish a method to collect and access the information you collect.
Examples – Excel or other spreadsheet that probably came with your computer word processing software, a document with your notes, Scrivener (not free), Zotero (free). Copy the internet address, any other relevant info such as author, date of information, if a physical resource such as museum display, phone book, encyclopedia, note all data about it; if an interview, make notes about the person’s name, the date, place and circumstances of interview.

Label and date all sources. Many academic and other papers today require noting the date collected when using online resources in footnotes/bibliography.

            So, just what are Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary sources? Read on.

Primary Sources
A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include diaries, letters, historical and legal documents, government records, eyewitness accounts or direct interviews when you can quote the original source, results of experiments performed and logged, statistical data, original creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects, surveys, fieldwork, and internet communications such as e-mail, blogs, forums, listservs, and newsgroups.

Secondary Sources
Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. These include many books that interpret information* articles in newspapers or popular magazines—even interviewing and rewriting an account of an interview can contain inadvertent error or bias, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

Age is an important factor in determining whether an article is a primary or secondary source. When close to the original event, the more the information offered can be considered primary.  Review articles summarize research on a particular topic, but they do not present any new findings; therefore, they are considered secondary sources. Their bibliographies, however, can be used to identify primary sources.

*If a book includes firsthand original documentation, the book can be a primary source.

Tertiary Sources
Tertiary sources contain information that has been compiled from primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources include almanacs, chronologies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, directories, guidebooks, indexes, abstracts, manuals, and textbooks.

Factors to consider in reviewing a resource:
Keep in mind that ALL INFORMATION IS BIASED. That’s not lying, it’s choosing what facts and data are relevant to share, in what manner they are shared, according to the researcher’s or the interviewee’s particular point of view. What do you remember and why? That’s bias. It’s not always deliberate. (Then again, that’s what makes fiction soooo cool—the interpretation of information.)

For whom was the information published (or website made) and why? Is it to inform, sell, entertain, or advance an opinion?
For websites, is advertising included?
Is the purpose of the information stated and clear?
Are there personal, political, religious, or cultural biases presented?
Are the author's credentials and affiliations listed?
Is contact information provided for an individual author or an organization?
What are the qualifications of the author or group that published the information?
Does an organization appear to sponsor the information?
Does the author cite the works of others?
Are the sources listed in the bibliography or included links related to the focus of the research/purpose of the site?

Always verify your secondary and tertiary information!
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Many of these tips came from Ithaca College Library, Ithaca, New York, retrieved February 2016 (Why is it important to tell you this? Because the info may have been updated or changed or even taken down since then.). This site’s Research 101 is an excellent resource, highly recommended.

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