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POLI 111 - The Government of Canada: Primary Sources & Secondary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources are first hand accountsof events created at or near the time that the event occured.

They typically record the circumstances and actual goings of a specific event.  For example, the debates in the House of Commons that lead to the passage of the Bill C-38 the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act would be considered to be primary source.

In contrast, a secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the actual event. 

For example, "Budget bill will have 'direct impact on our rights,' says Atleofrom Windspeaker; Jun2012, Vol. 30 Issue 3, p8-8 would be consider to be a Secondary source. It analyzes the debate and legislation and provides an interpretation of the imapct of the legislation on Canada's 1st Nations.

Key Characteritics of Primary Sources

Key characteristics include:

  • The context of the event;
  • The people involved in the event;
  • Location of the event;
  • The timeline of the event;
  • First person accounts about what transpired during the event;
  • What was said and who said it;
  • Emotions underpinning the event; and
  • Official documents, publications or media associated with the event.

Primary sources can include:

  • Autobiographies, memoirs, diaries and personal journals;
  • Interviews;
  • Correspondance;
  • Paintings, drawings, sound recordings, films, videos and photographs;
  • Newspaper and magazine accounts;
  • Recollections;
  • Speeches and debates;
  • Official public documents (Government reports, laws and regulations, annual reports, business and organizational filings, etc.); and
  • Scholarly publications and reports that present original research and findings.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources provide you with the capacity bring additional information that helps to clarifiy and add-value to information provided by a primary source.

Secondary source include:

  • Review articles or analyses of research studies about a subject (may included articled from peer-reviewed publications);
  • Indexes, bibliographies, biographies, reviews, or critiques of an author work or specific subject area; and
  • Analyses and commentary of events based on primary documents or archival material that is published in the form of a book, textbooks, scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed publications, dictionaries, encyclopedias handbooks, manuals, guidebooks, directories and almanacs.


  If you are researching a subject that you do not know too much about, doing background reading in a secondary source can introduce you to some of the key primary sources that are relevant to the subject area. 

Evaluating Primary & Secondary Sources

  1. Relevance
  2. Authority
  3. Timeliness/Currency
  4. Validity/Accuracy
  5. Argument
  6. Bias/Objectivity
  7. Citations & Reference List


Relevance

Is the document related to your thesis statement?

Is the information at correct level for your assignment?

Authority

Is the information from a scholarly peer-reviewed source?

Who is the author(s)? 

Is the author a recognized authority in this field?

What are author's credentials?

Is this author cited by other researchers in this area?

What is the authors affiliation?

Is contact information for the author provided?

Who is the publisher and are they know for publishing information on the subject?

Timeliness/Currency

Date of publication?

Is information current and up-to-date?

Validity/Accuracy

Is the the research methodology employed by the author provided?

Does the author include a literature review?

Is there a reference list of cited works?

Argument

Does the author provide a clearly reasoned argument supported by identifiable logic, facts and data?

Does the author consider alternate interpretations of the evidence?

Bias/Objectivity

Does the author appear to have any identifiable bias?

Has the author omitted and relevant information or data that other people writing on the subject have included?

Is the author afflilated with a group, business or orhanization that is selling something?

Where did the author's research funding come from?

Citations & Reference List


Has the author included citations to the information that they have used to create their article?

Does the author provide a Reference List for the citations used in the article?

Evaluating Information You Find on The Web

The public Internet (the Web) holds vast quanitites of information, data and statistics. Not all of it is true, reliable or suitable to be used in an academic research paper or project. Anything or anyone can put content on the Web.

Developing the skills to critically evaluating websites and their content uses the same approach as outlined in Evaluating Primary & Secondary Sources above.

It is always a good idea to start with Internet sources that accessible through the Library's web site. These resources have been selected through a process that ensures that they meet specific academic quality or provide the capacity to filter content in order to remove non-scholarly content when required.

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