What is a Primary source for your topic?
· First person accounts
· Official records of government or agencies
· Unofficial records of organizations
· Collected by survey instruments
Interview recordings or transcripts
· Found in an archive
· Oral history interviews
· Architectural features and themes
Evaluate Your Primary Sources According to Provenance
Who has produced it?
· Activist/ Advocacy group/ NGO
· Government agency/ International agency
Why was it produced?
· Informational, for what sort of audience?
· Fulfillment of government mandate
· Independent research – who funded it, or was influential in design of research?
Who was it produced for?
· Who was it produced for originally and what did they do with it?
· Who else had access to it at the time, do we know?
Who has access to it now, and under what conditions?
· Was it controlled by Human Subjects Review process – ie limited access because of privacy concerns
· Is it censored or edited because of privacy, intellectual property or security restrictions?
· Is it incomplete because parts of it are lost or damaged?
Evaluation of Sources
Consider the following questions when you evaluate a source for use in persuading your readers.
1. Who is the author?
a. What is her or his area of expertise?
b. Institutional or agency or organizational affiliation(s)? If so, what are the stated values and goals of those groups? How might they affect reader perceptions of this author’s work?
c. Where does s/he publish? Online? In journals? In magazines or newspapers? In books published by university presses, organizations, associations, or commercial publishing houses only? In publications produced by a single agency or institute?
Consider the following:
i. Commercial publishing houses like MacMillan, Time/Warner, or Knopf
ii. University presses, like the University of Washington Press
iii. Associations, societies, businesses, industries, services that publish their own periodicals, either for the public or for their own staff .
iv. Governments and non- and intergovernmental bodies, such as the U.S., the Brookings Institute, or the United Nations.
v. Web publishers, which may include anyone with access to a computer network.
d. How does the cited source “fit” into the body of this author’s work?
When was this written (is it current enough)? Why was it written (e.g., in response to a specific event)?
2. Are there other perspectives in the literature that disagree with this work? How might that affect your argument? Have you considered addressing/mediating counterclaims?
3. Will this source be treated as credible or persuasive by your readers?
a. Does the author come across as rational/logical or emotional?
b. Do the author’s intentions for the piece (e.g., to inform, explain, educate, advocate, persuade or dissuade, sell a product or service, or serve as a soapbox) align with how you are trying to use the source?
c. Is the way the author has mapped the issues (and intellectual terrain) similar in field and scope to the work you’re trying to do?
d. Does the author exhibit a particular bias? (e.g., commitment to a point of view, acknowledgement of bias, presentation of facts and arguments for only one side of a controversial issue?) Also, where on the continuum of views on this topic does the author fall, and how do you need to account for that when you incorporate the source?
e. Examine the references/bibliography: Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched? (i.e., reasonable assumptions and conclusions, arguments and conclusions supported by evidence, opposing points of view addressed, opinions not disguised as facts, cited sources authoritative?) P.S. these are the benchmarks for your work too!
4. What about the cited source’s argument?
a. Are questions raised but not answered?
b. Is it self-referential rather than based upon a public discourse?
c. Is the argument in the source you’re citing consistent with the point you’re trying to make, or are you exploiting the original source (cherry-picking)?