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CMN 102 - Northwest - Fall 2019: Selecting Sources

Selecting Research Sources

There are no "bad sources." There are, however, sources which aren't appropriate for a given research question or information need.

Gossip, anonymous comments, Yelp! reviews. These can all be valid, irreplaceable sources for research. However, it's important that the sources you select match both your research goals and your class assignment requirements.

For instance, if you want to understand how people feel about a political topic, first-person narratives will be invaluable. In such cases, primary sources (first-person testimony, receipts, official documents, diaries, online comments, etc.) are appropriate. Primary sources are critical to in-depth research and answering very specific research questions.

If you want to get a general sense of how a group of people communicate, secondary sources are needed. Secondary sources provide analysis, comparison, background information, and/or interpretation (academic journal articles, encyclopedia entries, etc.) and are appropriate for general research and answering broader research questions. Secondary sources often synthesize (combine) many individual perspectives into a more generalized perspective.

In a class like this one, primary sources can be useful additional or anecdotal evidence.

Perspective, Lens, and Scope

To determine if a source is appropriate for your research, consider the perspective, lens, and scope.

  • PerspectiveWhat kinds of information are you looking for? First-hand accounts? Empirical, academic research? Outsider or insider perspectives? Make sure the source you select has the right perspective for your research question.
  • Lens. What is the 'aim' of the writer or speaker? Do they want to help you travel? Celebrate a culture? Criticize a culture? Scare you into buying their book? What does the writer or speaker emphasize or place great importance on? Trying to understand what a writer or speaker wants you to do after reading/listening is imperative to understanding how the source relates (or doesn't relate) to your research question.
  • Scope. What areas of a topic does a speaker or writer ignore or leave under-described? Which cultures within a country aren't addressed? How does the speaker or writer imagine the limits of the topic?


For general help with detecting 'fake news,' see our library guide on Research

"Unofficial Sources"

For your personal enjoyment, some information on how gossip & other "unofficial" means of sharing information can be culturally important.