Primary sources are the original documents that serve as a springboard for other theorists, scientists, authors, and scholars to write additional works that are added to the subject’s base of literature. Primary sources are the first indications of a particular idea or a landmark study. They serve as a scientific starting point. Secondary sources are based on extrapolations of the original version with new additions and the interpretation of the past.
For the most comprehensive literature review, both types of sources should be included in the research for a particular topic. The most powerful advantage to the use of primary sources is the assurance that these documents have not been marred or misrepresented through inaccurate interpretations or external motivations. The complexity of history makes it clear that a number of motives could influence the portrayal of original sources. When citing the works of others use only part of the source and rarely include the full context of the document.
Details, the writing style, and purpose intended by the original author are important components available to researchers who choose to include primary sources in their bibliographies. The most practical advantage of secondary sources is their increased availability. Primary sources often originated decades or centuries ago. Much of the context that influenced those pieces is drastically different now and a modern interpretation might be the only way to apply the original findings to today’s world.
The addition of strong secondary sources can strengthen the scope of a literature review. Lastly, most students have the most experience with secondary sources. This supposition was supported by the findings in a recent study by Oldenburg (2005). While psychology professors preferred to use primary sources, they usually reserved the assignments of these readings to smaller, more advanced classes. With the progression in their education, students gain more exposure to original sources. Most will identify the need to incorporate both primary and secondary sources into their research.
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