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English 106/108: Evaluating Sources

This guide has been created for students of English 106 and 108 to help them learn the Libraries' services and get help when they need it.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources contain firsthand accounts or original data. Some examples include diaries, photographs, original research, drawings, posters, films, interviews, songs, eyewitness accounts.

Secondary sourcesare based on primary sources, often written by authorities on the subject.

A written work based entirely on secondary sources are tertiary sources. They may include bibliographies or encyclopedia articles.


Primary sources: subject examples

History: diaries, letters, government documents, or newspaper articles from the period being studied. Purdue has a number of databases containing full-text historical newspapers such as the Times (London), the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc.

Literature: The primary text is the work being analyzed or criticized.  Any text can be a primary source if it is the focus of an analysis.

Anthropology, sociology: Ethnographies, survey data, statistics.

Primary Sources in Purdue Publications

To find primary sources from Purdue publications/local newspapers, try searching in the catalog for print archives or visit the websites below.

If you need help, visit Archives and Special Collections located on the 4th floor in HSSE.

Is it Credible? (A Checklist)

Authority  

  • Who is the author/creator of the information? Is he/she the original author/creator? Is the person qualified?  What are his/her credentials?  What is his/her occupation?

Accuracy  

  • Is the information accurate?  How does it compare with other sources on the subject?  Is it consistent with what else you know about the subject? Does it provide enough evidence to support its claim or position?

Objectivity  

  • Does the source present a balanced view of the different perspectives on the topic? Is the bias of the author/creator obvious? Is the source trying to convince you of a point of view? Is the website or publication in which the item appears sponsored, or endorsed by a political or other special interest group? 

Date of Publication 

  • How important is currency to your topic? Is this research still relevant? Does it report facts from the actual time of the event or issue? Is it retrospective, providing some review or analysis of previous research? 

Scope / Depth / Breadth 

  • Is the source comprehensive for the entire field of study, presenting multiple viewpoints? Is it specialized, focusing on only certain aspects? Is it ethnocentric, reflecting the values or beliefs of a certain group? 

Intended Audience / Level of Information 

  • Who is the intended audience: the general public, the educated layperson, professionals, practitioners, scholars? Is it written at a level that is understandable and makes sense to you?  Consider the vocabulary used. Does it build on what you already know? Does it include a bibliography or links to additional sources to consult? 

Quality of Publication 

  • Do you know anything about the publisher of the source? Is it published, sponsored, or endorsed by a professional association, organization, or society? 

Ease of Use / Special Features 

  • Does the source contain a table of contents and/or an index to facilitate use and find the specific information you need? Is it well-organized? Does it include a bibliography? Does it contain graphs, tables, charts, illustrations, photographs, maps, or other special features that add to its usefulness?