Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Research Sources: Primary, Secondary, Scholarly


In writing research, we have three types of sources we look at: Primary, Secondary, and Scholarly.  Although our definitions are very close to the definitions you've used for Primary and Secondary sources in content research, we apply these terms a little bit differently because we are researching how writing is used rather than simply using writing to research a topic.

For Project 1, you'll follow these requirements for your sources (minimum 15 sources total):
  1. Primary Sources (5 total): think of this as the type of writing you want to teach someone else how to do (e.g. Twitter posts, financial reports, resumes.)
  2. Secondary Sources (5 total): sources that talk about the Primary Sources, but they come from everyday media (e.g. websites, newspapers, magazines.)
  3. Scholarly Sources (5 total): These are thoroughly researched discussions of how knowledge words. (Typically, you'll get these through Milner or Google Scholar. Wikipedia citations are also a good place to learn about the scholars and keywords you can type into a Milner search.)



How Writing Research Differs

In the following blog post, we'll be looking at how Major George Washington's journal from 1754 can provide us with leads to many different types of sources depending upon how we address it.  In the journal, Washington describes his expedition to deliver a letter from the governor of Virginia to a French military commander.  For both content research and writing research, this record would almost certainly count as a primary source - it was produced by an individual as a firsthand account of his experiences.  But depending upon the types of genres we're researching, our use of the journal could change significantly.

Primary Sources (5 total)

In content research, a primary source is a piece of writing that is directly produced by people engaged in the topic you are studying.  As I've mentioned, the text of Washington's journal could be a primary source describing colonial times in America - but it could also be a primary source for studying what journals look like as a genre.  In this case, you might also compare Washington's journal to journals by other prominent historical figures.

But there are other genres that are used to describe the journal itself, and a writing researcher might study those genres as primary sources.  For example, the Mount Vernon Website describes the journal, talking about when it was written and why (Ecology, Production, Activity, Representation).  For a content researcher, this would count as a secondary source because it was written after-the-fact.  But if you're a writing researcher who studies websites, then this becomes a primary source.  You might use it to see how people talk about history (Representation), or to describe the ways in which photos are used to add authenticity to web texts (Ecology, Reception).  If you study social media, then the @MountVernon would offer a primary source for understanding Twitter, or you might examine the status updates of the Mount Vernon Fan Page on Facebook - both accounts might show how social media reaches people and leads to productive online discussions (Distribution, Reception, Socialization).

Secondary Sources (5 total)

Secondary sources talk about our Primary Sources, but they typically come from everyday media (e.g. websites, newspapers, magazines.)  As pointed out above, the status of your sources depends on the focus of your project.  If you're studying journals as a genre, then the Mount Vernon Article referenced above would become a secondary source (a very helpful one that addresses nearly all the components of CHAT, albeit indirectly.)  But the Mount Vernon Twitter and Facebook accounts would be essentially irrelevant.  Instead, you'd want to look at the introduction by Paul Royster, where it's pointed out that Washington's "journal" was actually written as a report for Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia (Distribution).  Thus, this raises a question about how we define the genre of the journal - is it necessary that the journal be written during events? (Activity)  Or is an account written afterward still a "journal"? (Representation)  And who decides? (Reception)

One of the most helpful types of secondary sources for us are the "how to" guides we frequently find online.  The Creative Educator website provides directions for a class project to help students "create a historical journal from a fictional character's point of view."  Since this is not a journal entry, it's not primary - rather, it's a secondary source indicating the characteristics of historical journals.  Another similar sources is provided by Learn Alberta.  But note that these sources are for a specific type of journal - one that's actually a work of fiction.  You might use their tips to understand what it is we look for when judging actual journal (Representation), or to see what students will do while writing their own approximations (Production, Activity).  Just must realize that they aren't describing your genre directly.  But that's okay - it's almost impossible to find "perfect" sources that address exactly what you're looking for.  Instead, the point of research is to incorporate multiple types of sources in your discussion of the new ideas that you are researching on your own.

Scholarly Sources (5 total)

These are thoroughly researched discussions of how knowledge words.  Typically, you'll find these through Milner or Google Scholar or other types of research-oriented databases.  In a scholarly source, you're looking for a few key components:
  1. The article has been peer reviewed.
  2. It contains extensive citations that reference outside sources.
  3. The footnotes, works cited, or bibliography provides detailed information to show the source of each citation.

For studying Washington's journal, scholarly sources might talk about the conditions of colonial life in the 1750's, the rhetorical use of journal writing, or even the the contexts of the Seven Years War / French and Indian War.  You probably won't find a scholarly sourced titled "How Washington Wrote His Journal."  Instead, you'd want to find sources that talk about George Washington the person (Activity, Ecology, Reception), sources that talk about how and why journals are written (Production, Representation), and sources that talk about how journals shift public perception (Distribution, Socialization).

Note that I don't recommend using Wikipedia as a source in your work (it's like citing an encyclopedia - it's too broad an overview for the type of work we're doing.)  I do however recommend it's use as an aid in finding sources.  The Wikipedia page for diaries references to early diarists who you might research for comparisons with Washington's work.  Also, the citations are also a good place to learn about the scholars and keywords you can type into a Milner search.

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