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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Bachelor's Degree with Individual Concentration

Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary Sources are:

Created during the time period being studied (e.g. Newspapers) or

Created at a later date by the participants in the events being studied (e.g. Memoirs)

They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.

Enable researcher to get as close as possible to a historic event or time period


Evaluating Sources for Credibility

Evaluating Information

Five Things to Keep in Mind When Doing Scholarly Research

1. Who is writing the article and what could be their agenda?  
      Donald Trump will have a very different viewpoint on social issues that Bernie Sanders.

2. Who funded the study? 
       Who funds a study can often raise questions about the conclusion of a study.
       For example, would you expect  a study funded by R.J. Reynolds (a tobacco company) to find a causal link between smoking and cancer?

3. What was the methodology used by the author of the study?
      Does the article have a statement of the methodology used, and most importantly does the author provide the raw data to replicate the results?

4. When was the article written?  Publication Dates are important in research.  

In the Humanities (English, History, Philosophy, etc), publication dates are less relevant as these disciplines study universal ideas or change over time.  

In the Social Sciences
(Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology, etc.), publication dates are more relevant because they are mostly studying the present and recent past. 

In the Natural Sciences
, (Computer Science, Engineering, etc.), publication dates are tremendously important as they are studying the immediate present.

In Business
, the newest reports (Marketing, Industry, and Literature) are only of use as this data needs to be as timely as possible.

For example, an article published about personal computers in 1982 may still have a tremendous amount of value to a historian (How did graphical user interfaces evolve from the Xerox Alto in 1973 to Windows 7?), but may be completely irrelevant to a computer scientist as it does not describe the current state of research (What can Windows 7 actully do)?

5. Is the article from the popular press or the academic press?
This is important because there is far less fact checking for articles in the popular press (Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, People, Economist, etc) than there is in the academic press (Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Journal of Marketing, Journal of Musicology, etc.)

Popular Press:
  authors submit articles to an editor who chooses what is published.
Academic Press:
authors submit articles to an editorial board of other academics, who check their results and methodology (called "Peer Review"); and then decide whether to publish it or make revisions. 

Important point to remember: the topic of the research is what drives the types of resources one needs.  For example, If one is doing a project on fashion advertising from the 1960's to today, then the ads from popular media are the central resource of the project despite the fact that they are not considered "scholarly" by academia.

If you have questions, please contact the reference desk at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Click here to learn how to contact the Reference Desk during open hours.