Primary & Secondary Sources
A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person or work of art. Characteristically, primary sources are contemporary to the events and people described and show minimal or no mediation between the document/artifact and its creator. As to the format, primary source materials can be written and non-written, the latter including sound, picture, and artifact.
Examples of primary sources include:
* personal correspondence and diaries
* works of art and literature
* speeches and oral histories
* audio and video recordings
* photographs and posters
* newspaper ads and stories
* laws and legislative hearings
* census or demographic records
* plant and animal specimens
* coins and tools
A secondary source, in contrast, lacks the immediacy of a primary record. As materials produced sometime after an event happened, they contain information that has been interpreted, commented, analyzed or processed in such a way that it no longer conveys the freshness of the original. History textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, interpretive journal articles, and book reviews are all examples of secondary sources. Secondary sources are often based on primary sources.
So what's the difference?
An example from the printed press serves to further distinguish primary from secondary sources. In writing a narrative of the political turmoil surrounding the 2012 U.S. presidential election, a researcher will likely tap newspaper reports of that time for factual information on the events. The researcher will use these reports as primary sources because they offer direct or firsthand evidence of the events, as they first took place. A column in the Op/Ed section of a newspaper commenting on the election, however, is less likely to serve these purposes. In this case, a columnist's analysis of the election controversy is considered to be a secondary source, primarily because it is not a close factual account or recording of the events.
Bear in mind, however, that primary and secondary sources are not fixed categories. The use of evidence as a primary or secondary source depends upon the type of research you are conducting. If the researcher of the 2012 presidential election were interested in people's perceptions of the political controversy, the Op/Ed columns will likely be good primary sources for surveying public opinion of these landmark events.
The chart below illustrates possible uses of primary and secondary sources by discipline:
Conducting an Interview
"Journalists planning an interview need to be prepared. Try to keep it to three to five questions, because if you haven't worked out in this number what you want the person to say you never will.
Try to avoid looking at your notes during the interview and always listen to what the other person is saying.
Here are a few tips for planning and executing an interview.
Interview tips for journalists:
1: Never give an interviewee questions in advance. It’s OK to give a general idea about the interview themes, but being too specific may limit what you can ask in the interview. It also risks being overtaken by events and allows the interviewee to rehearse answers.
2: Be on time. There’s nothing worse than keeping someone.
3: Always check that your equipment is working and that you have enough batteries, tapes, discs etc before you leave the office.
4: Treat the interviewee with respect. A warm but not over-enthusiastic greeting is a good start. The interviewee deserves respect whether they are a president or a man or woman in the street.
5: Take control of the location. It’s your interview. You need to choose a place that isn't too noisy and where there are not too many distractions.
6: You are not the center of attention. You are there to get the perspective of the interviewee, not give your own.
7: Do the research you need to, but don’t try to cram it all into your questions. Put yourself in the shoes of a member of your audience before you start the interview. If they were here, what would they ask?
8: Ask the most important question first. The more pressed the interviewee is, the less time they will have and the more likely that they will cut the interview short.
9: The interview is a conversation. It is not a confrontation. You are not there to make the interviewee look stupid.
10: Try to avoid looking at notes. If you look at your notes, the interviewee may be distracted. And it’s difficult for you to read and listen at the same time.
11: Maintain eye contact at all times. Keep your body language in check. If you nod your head, your subject may take this to mean that you agree with them and so there is no need to explain further. You may miss the chance to discover more. If you shake your head, or recoil with a shocked facial expression, you risk making your subject clam up. You will have shown them that you find their views offensive and so they are likely to stop short of saying even more in the same vein.
12: Try to ask a maximum of three or four questions. An interview is not a fishing expedition. If you can’t get to the essence of what you want the interviewee to say in three or four questions, change the questions.
13: There are only six basic questions. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?
14: Shorter questions are better than longer ones. Never ask more than one question at a time, combining questions makes it easy for the interviewee to avoid answering one altogether but without seeming to. Be as direct as you can without being rude.
15: Be sure of your facts. There’s nothing worse than being told you are wrong by an interviewee – especially when it’s live.
16: Listen. The interviewee might want to use your interview to say something important that you were not expecting.
17: If the interviewee’s not happy with the way they answered a particular question, don’t give in to appeals for them to do it again – unless there is a factual error in the answer or there is a risk of serious confusion.
18: At the end of the interview, no matter how difficult the interviewee has been, always say thank you
19: Take notes. Beginning reporters often freak out when they realize they can’t possibly write down everything the source is saying, word-for-word. Don’t sweat it. Experienced reporters learn to take down just the interesting stuff they know they’ll use, and ignore the stuff they won’t. This takes some practice, but the more interviews you do, the easier it gets.
20: When you’re editing, don’t take answers out of context. That’s dishonest."
Conduct an interview with an adult about the role of mass media in his/her life. First, you must create 4-5 interview questions. Your questions should focus around how the adult receives the news and his/her opinions about various forms of mass media (i.e., "Do you think the internet is as trustworthy a source of news as a newspaper?") Make sure you bring their responses (either hand-written or typed) to class on Thursday. The person you interview must also provide a signature.