6d- Selecting Effective Secondary Source Evidence

While your primary data/evidence/observations are indeed central to the writing of your essay, you will also need to consider the role of the secondary source, the theoretical statements, or academic opinion in propelling your discussion.  As already stated, secondary sources should not be considered as “evidence.”  They do not contain the proof, or evidence of your assertions—your fieldnotes contain such information.  However, secondary sources are extremely helpful in situating your discussion within a larger academic conversation, in making clear that your ideas, thoughts and feelings about your field research is well-informed.  Recalling the list of qualities of ethnographic writing, we focus now on point #6:  Ethnographic writing stems from review of secondary sources and the exploration of primary data.

In Chapter 5 we discussed the annotated bibliography as an initial way of highlighting the relationship between primary and secondary research.  One of the main goals in producing this piece of writing is to identify two or three academic works that you find relevant/valuable/interesting with respect to your chosen field research.

Once you have identified a few academic sources that you find relevant to your primary research, you’ll need to spend some time with each. That is, you’ll need to re-read, or even to really read (as the case may be) enough of each text to get a general idea of the actual academic thought involved. We suggest you work with no fewer than three or four sources to begin, depending upon the requirements of your particular instructor/assignment.

Working with your stated focus, you’ll want to consider what the author of each text has to say that may in some way relate to your research.  More importantly, you need to begin thinking about how you might apply or use the thoughts and words of other authors in order to allow you to expand your own discussion in your essay. The idea here is not to find EXACT matches of support for what you did or what you think.   As you may have already discovered, it may be extremely difficult to find someone else who has researched group behavior in an anime club, or the relationship among people who take their dogs to dog-walking parks, or the reasons behind our personal connection in a Laundromat.  These aren’t highly researched topics and most probably do not have a supporting wealth of literature from which to directly call upon for current thought, theory or even statistics.

The following is a suggested method for examining secondary sources in order to identify useful quotations, ones that will enable you to bring your own research into conversation with academic ideas and theory.  While some processes revealed in this text are really just about sitting down and doing the task—the collection and writing of fieldnotes comes to mind here—in choosing possible quotations for your essay, we urge you to spend a great deal of time reading and thinking about the texts themselves before randomly selecting quotations.  The more thought you put into this task, the better prepared you’ll be to actually work with the quotations as you write your essay.

  1. Identify the three sources from which you’ll pull quotations.  Begin by writing at least a paragraph about why this text seems relevant to the FOCUS of your essay. What does this author make you think about? How does it help you crystalize a discussion?
  2. Identify three quotations per text that you consider to be “workable” quotations. Go to the computer and open a WP (word processing–like MS word) document and begin with the full citation of the work in MLA format (or the format indicated by your teacher).
  3. Once you’ve got the citation, write two or three sentences that effectively summarize the idea that the author is speaking about in this passage.  The idea can be very broad, very general.  The goal is to simply reiterate the author’s most useful point.
  4. Then, type/write three different passages directly from your source.  These passages ought to be ones you consider to be interesting and possibly usable in a final essay. These passages may be as much as be a couple paragraphs in length, but don’t record anything less than three sentences per quotation. It’ll be too hard to recall the context later.  Whatever you do, don’t forget to note the page numbers next to the quotations!
  5. Once you have identified no less than six quotations in two different ACADEMIC sources, you need to create a bit of thoughtful prose.  Try to explain—if only for yourself—how you understand the relationship between the quotations you have chosen and your own primary data examples. How do you want to use any of these quotations? Which seem particularly relevant, interesting to you? Why you are drawn to these quotations?

This exercise may become a bit tiresome, or somewhat laborious in nature, but the point is that in “pre-selecting” quotations, you can “try them on” in your text.  This textbook provides guidance and strategies to assist you in writing your essay, but there is no way around committing the time and effort necessary for thinking and experimenting with different options.  Know that whatever time you may spend choosing your examples and your quotations, and however important such tasks may be, the most important part is the actual writing, the time spent in bringing these elements together on the page in one single essay.