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.