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Follow detail trails... TO PRIMARY SOURCES!

Think beyond: good source, bad source, true source, false source

STEP 1: Avoid the garbage.

Use your usual evaluation skills to avoid obviously bad, false, or unhelpful sources.

STEP 2: Read helpful sources to increase your knowledge and gain understanding.

IF you find a detail you want to cite, proceed to STEP 3.

STEP 3: Determine if the source is the original, primary source of the detail.

WARNING: Most of what we read in our everyday lives is NOT primary source material. We are accustomed to reading many secondary sources such as news and blog articles that present, summarize, and discuss information and details selected from other sources. When citing sources for research, think of these secondary sources as being "stepping stone" sources.

Primary sources may include:

  • Research articles such as peer-reviewed, academic articles you can find in library databases
  • Data, surveys, charts, graphs, and technical reports from the collecting person or organization
  • Laws, legal documents, and official records you can get from government websites
  • Press releases and information provided directly from organizations
  • News articles IF they feature investigative research such as quotes from original interviews
  • See even more examples of primary and secondary sources

IF a source is the original, primary source of details, then go ahead and cite the source!

IF the detail came from another source, then you have a secondary source. Proceed to STEP 4.

STEP 4: Follow the detail trail!

Seek out the original, primary sources of details so that you may consider them in their full context. You may also find even more helpful information and details to cite!

Follow hyperlinks when they are available.

Check "source" captions for images, charts, tables, etc.

Conduct follow-up searches for details such as specific names of people, organizations, events, etc.

WARNING: If you are unable to determine the original, primary source of a detail, then this evidence may not be worthy of citing!

LET'S PRACTICE WITH AN EXAMPLE!

  • What website hosts this article?
  • Does the website and the article seem generally good, true, and trustworthy?
  • What kind of article is this?
  • Why and how might you find this article as useful? When might you use it as a reference?
  • Let's assume you wanted to use the article's following quote from Sam Wineburg: "Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there." Is this article the original, primary source of the quote?
  • Are you able to find the original, primary source of Wineburg's quote?
  • HINT: If you search for the quote, make sure you copy it exactly and have it in quotation marks.
  • What website hosts the original, primary source of Wineburg's quote?
  • Does this website and article seem generally good, true, and trustworthy?
  • What kind of article is this?
  • When might you use this source as a reference? What details might you cite from this source?
  • Let's assume you want to cite actual findings from the SHEG report. Is this article the actual report? Is it the original, primary source of the report findings and data?
  • Are you able to find the original, primary source of the report findings and data?
  • Compare the length of this research report with the other two links you reviewed above. What else "looks" different?
  • What does looking at the actual research report findings allow us to do? What else can we learn?
  • What are important types of details we should look at regarding the research design?

Credits:

Created with images by marvinmacs - "beach foot walk"

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