Second but Never Last

The importance of secondary sources on Wikipedia.

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One of my biggest challenges in editing Wikipedia is finding strong secondary sources. Throughout most of my college writing career I leaned on primary sources to support my papers and ideas. It was not until Writing for Digital Media that I learned the importance of the secondary source.

Use it in a sentence?

What is a secondary source? According to Wikipedia,

“A secondary source is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere.”

Essentially, primary sources are first hand knowledge. Secondary sources are an elaboration of this knowledge. Common secondary sources include newspapers, academic journals, and books. They not only provide interpretation and summarization, but also analysis and elaboration.

To Include or To Not Include?

When is the right time to use secondary sources? For starters, Wikipedia is the perfect place to use secondary sources to support ideas! As Dr. Lucas states in Writing on Wiki, the ideal contribution will have plenty of secondary sources as support.

Literature can be extremely complex and subjective at times. Analysis of a short story or novel can be difficult when so many interpretations exist. In Secondary Sources by Timothy McAdoo, he acknowledges the fact that analyzing complex literature topics can be made much simpler by researching secondary sources. There will be times when extra insight is needed to provide a greater understanding of the topic at hand. Secondary sources such as interviews and journal critiques can be the perfect place to gain a deeper level of understanding on an author’s intentions.

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Passing the Test

Now that we have decided a secondary source is necessary, we have to make sure the source is factual and worth including. C.N Truman at the History Learning Site gave four guidelines for evaluating a secondary source.

  • Authenticity- Articles must be complete, dependable, and reference the correct author.
  • Credibility- Transparency is key. The author must truly believe what they are writing. There should be no ulterior motives.
  • Representativeness- Sources must be accessible to the public and in good condition.
  • Meaning- The document must be legible and understandable by the reader.

Secondary sources are somewhat difficult to find and include. I find that online databases such as Galileo provide a wide of variety of article critiques and journals that provide the insight only a secondary source can give. By following the advice and guidelines listed above, I believe all editors will be able to find proper support for all of their claims.