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COMN 388: Exp: Refl & Disc to Solve Problems

It's a TRAP

When determining the merit of a particular source, remember not to fall into a TRAP and ask yourself the following:


  • When was this source published?
  • Has it ever been updated?
  • Do I need up-to-date information?
  • Would an older/newer source be better?


  • Does this source discuss at least part of my topic?
  • Does this allow me to build on my topic?
  • Does this provide a point I can expand on or disprove?
  • Does this source fall within the parameters of the assignment?


  • Who is the author?
  • Does the source tell me anything about the author?
  • Is the author qualified to speak on the subject?
  • Where did the author get their information from?
  • What are the author's credentials?


  • What process did the author go through to create the source?
  • What is the purpose of the source?
  • Is the purpose clearly defined?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What does the author gain from this information being available?

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources: A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources provide the original materials on which other research is based and enable students and other researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a particular event or time period. Published materials can be viewed as primary resources if they come from the time period that is being discussed, and were written or produced by someone with firsthand experience of the event. Often primary sources reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources can be written or non-written (sound, pictures, artifacts, etc.).

Secondary Sources: Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. A secondary source is generally one or more steps removed from the event or time period and are written or produced after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Secondary sources often lack the freshness and immediacy of the original material. On occasion, secondary sources will collect, organize, and repackage primary source information to increase usability and speed of delivery, such as an online encyclopedia. Like primary sources, secondary materials can be written or non-written (sound, pictures, movies, etc.).

(definitions courtesy of Santiago Canyon College)


Context is critical for determining whether sources are primary or secondary! A source may be primary in one context and secondary in another.