Primary versus Secondary Resources Research Paper Assignment

This discussion board focuses on the concept of primary vs. secondary sources.

In this class, you will be asked to write a research paper based on primary source material. “Primary” sources have a direct, firsthand relationship to the topic and this term is different than what we mean by “reliable” sources. A reliable source may be trustworthy, but the author of that source has a secondary relationship to the topic.

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For example: A tweet by the director of the Environmental Protection Agency is a primary source about US environmental policy. A study or set of data published by the EPA or located on the EPA website is also a primary source. A newspaper article about the report or the tweet would be a secondary source; the news reporter does not work for the EPA, did not collect the data, and was not the firsthand source of either the data/report or the EPA social media account.

Therefore, we would not use the newspaper article as a primary source; the tweet and the EPA report are primary, so we would use those sources.

Another way primary sources differ is that they may be biased, and that’s ok. You will be looking for sources to support your argument and acknowledging bias along the way. A paper that focuses on the environmental impact of fast fashion can use the websites of fast fashion retailers (H&M, Zara, Forever21, etc.) as well as websites of companies like American Apparel as primary sources. You don’t want to get all your information from biased or corporate websites, of course, but it is vital to get facts and details for the paper from primary rather than secondary sources.

Newspapers, news websites, and news broadcasts (including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc.) may be perfectly reliable, but they are secondary sources. They are not primary and should not be used for the research paper you will write in this class.

1. Read this page and then complete the tutorial.

2. On the discussion board, answer the following prompt:

How is the concept of primary vs. secondary sources different than the concept of reliable vs. unreliable sources?

What is your level of comfort with using sources such as like tweets, TEDx talks, corporate websites, legal documents, academic journals, and peer-reviewed studies in place of news sources?

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