Validity Reliability and Relevance of Primary and Secondary Sources


Validity Reliability and Relevance of Primary and Secondary Sources
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Validity, Reliability, and Relevance of Primary and Secondary Resources

Research papers depend on information taken from primary and secondary sources, and it’s important that that information be valid, reliable, and relevant. Let’s talk about sources. Primary sources are derived directly from the topic with no intermediation.


Some examples would be: diaries, eyewitness accounts, videos, letters, legislative documents, and experimental data. All of these things are firsthand accounts or evidence of what happened, and they are derived directly from the topic. There’s nothing between that source and what you’re reading. Secondary sources, on the other hand, are going to be commentaries, or interpretations, of primary sources. They’re secondary; they take one of these things, and they comment on it or interpret it. Examples would be books and articles of history and literary criticism.


If you have books or articles that are written about history, or you’ve got a literary criticism (something criticizing some other work of literature), they are commenting or interpreting a primary source, which makes it a secondary source. They can still be sources that are good for your research paper, but you have to make sure that they fit these criteria. Your sources need to be valid, reliable, and relevant. You may find an amazing source. You may find a diary that you think is so cool and you want to include it in your paper, but if it’s not valid, reliable, and relevant, then you shouldn’t use that source. Let’s talk about what each one of these means.


Validity is indicated by the extent to which it is confirmed and echoed in other works. A source could be valid if it’s confirmed and echoed in other works. That means other works on the same topic that you’re working on have cited that source. If you are using something and you look it up, and you see that it’s been cited in lots of other papers, then that means that it’s a pretty valid source. That would be a good one to use. You could check off validity.


Next, you need to look at reliability. How reliable is your source? That means that the source must consistently support your point to be reliable. If you have a topic and your source supports the topic, gives a counterargument, goes back and forth, and compares and contrasts why your idea or your topic is good or bad, that’s not reliable. You want it to constantly, consistently support your point. You don’t want it to waver back and forth. You don’t want it to give any other option. You only want it to support your point if you are going to use it as a source. Now, in you’re writing, you can definitely go back and forth on a point, but if you’re using a source in your research paper, it needs to be reliable. It needs to only back up your point and not give any other options. If that happens, you can say, “Okay, it’s reliable. I can use this source.”


Now, let’s look at relevance. In order to be able to use it, it’s got to be valid, reliable, and relevant. We’ve got to make sure it’s relevant. Relevance refers to the extent to which the source applies to your essay. If you’re writing an essay about World War II, and you find in amazing diary that was written by a slave during Civil War times, you shouldn’t use it. It isn’t relevant; it doesn’t apply to your essay. It may be a really awesome book that you read, or whatever form of a diary was in, and you may think, “This is so amazing! I want to use it in something,” but you can’t use it in your current work about World War II. It doesn’t fit in. It’s not relevant and it doesn’t apply to your essay. Even though they may both refer to war times, it’s not referring to the correct war. You have to make sure that your paper is going to only reflect sources that are relevant.


If you find a source and you can check that it’s been used in other sources (it’s valid), that it consistently supports your point (it’s reliable), and that it applies to something in your essay (it’s relevant), then you can use that source. Otherwise, you should probably look for better sources and leave any that don’t fit any one of these criteria behind. Try not to use them. If you find something and you think, “Oh, it’s reliable. It’s constantly supporting my point. Oh, it’s relevant. It definitely has to do with my paper, but it isn’t valid.” and you can’t find it cited anywhere else, you might not want to use that source. It may not be a valid source. It could be something that someone wrote without any information to back it up. It could just be something they wrote on the Internet and you found it. Maybe it worked for your paper, but if it’s not valid, it’s not going to be a good source.


When writing research papers, make sure that you are finding sources both primary and secondary that are valid, reliable, and relevant.



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Last updated: 04/20/2018

 

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