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Sound Writing

Subsection 2.1.2 Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are texts that you use to supplement your argument in some way: by establishing a theoretical premise, by providing a point of reference or departure, or by providing some historical or biographical context (to name a few). They are the secondary objects of your analysis and do not comprise the bulk of your argument. Though it’s often rewarding to read secondary sources in their entirety, it’s not always practical. The following are some tips for getting the most out of your secondary sources:
List 2.1.1. Strategies for Finding Secondary Sources
  • Figure out what you’re looking for.
    Because secondary sources are supplementary, it shouldn’t be too difficult to identify what information you need. Writing a paper on the presidency of Barack Obama and need a source that describes the international response to his election? Refresh yourself on these Strategies for Finding Sources, and dive in! Some useful search terms might include: Obama, election, international, response.
  • Read the introduction and the conclusion.
    This should give you a good idea of the starting point and end point of the source’s argument and its major points. Assess the usefulness of the source based on these sections. If the source doesn’t look like it will be of great use to you, put it to the side. For instance, if you found a source called The Military Legacy of the Obama Administration, you might browse through it for a hidden nugget of information, but chances are the source may not be the most helpful to you.
  • Identify relevant passages.
    Browse headings and subheadings, or chapters, if your source is a book. Skim any relevant sections for key words (see Subsection 2.1.3). Find a heading that reads “European Reactions to the Election of Barack Obama”? Mark it!
  • Search for key words.
    It’s possible to do this manually (picture the word in your head and let your eyes roam the page), but it’s far easier to do electronically. If your source is electronic, find the search function on your computer and type in key words: Obama, election, international, response.
  • If your source has an index, browse it for key words.
    The index is at the back of the book, and it should refer you to specific pages on which the concept is discussed. The index is also a good way to look for relevant words that you may not have thought of.