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Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

The Research Process

Many people take a haphazard approach to research, which quickly leads to frustration and confusion. No one is born with research skills, but they can be easily learned. Most people think that learning these skills is uninteresting and dull, when in fact, having these skills can save time and lead to unexpected resources. By learning the research process the task of locating information becomes systematic and methodical. Although this guide contains suggestions and steps for locating information specifically related to Bunker Hill, you can transfer the process presented here to any assigned topic in American history.

This guide will assist you in learning the process of going from information presented in a reference source, to a secondary source, to a footnote in a secondary source to a primary source. By utilizing the tools presented, you will be better equipped to conduct research and obtain the information you need to complete a research project.

A history project can be presented in a number of formats including research papers, theatrical productions, video documentaries or web presentations. Most projects require the researcher to seek out primary source material and secondary source material and integrate the information found in both types of sources as evidence to support the findings of the research. What does this all mean? What is a primary source? A secondary source? Where does one begin to locate such materials? And finally, what does one do with the materials once they are found? This guide will answer these questions, give you advice for creating systematic search strategies and suggest specific reference sources to consult along the way.

When assigning a research project, a teacher wants you, the student, to be able to do a number of things:

  • Gather sources about the research topic - books, journal articles, and documents.
  • Read and evaluate selected sources to learn about the topic in general.
  • Determine the point of view presented in each of the sources.
  • Extract the relevant facts related to the topic from the sources.
  • Distinguish what is historical fact and what is the author's interpretation.
  • Analyze and evaluate the evidence, found both in documents and in secondary writings.
  • Based on the interpretations of historical narratives written by others and the evidence presented in primary source accounts, formulate an argument of your own.
  • Demonstrate what you've learned by presenting your findings in a research paper, creating a documentary or theatrical interpretation or designing a web presentation using the information you've gathered in the research process.
  • In order to accomplish all of these goals you need to be organized and know how to get started. If you are at the beginning of a project, you need to design a search strategy and your first task is to learn about the assigned topic. Because reference books provide factual information and ultimately lead to citations for secondary and primary source materials, the best place to begin your research is in the reference department of your local library. Reference books and electronic databases as well as secondary and primary sources all provide useful pieces of information. In the research process, one source leads to another. Once you are familiar with the type of information each reference source has to offer, then you will be able to systematically use the sources together to locate the information you need. This guide is arranged so that you may jump to any of the sections listed in the Table of Contents or you can use it to guide you step by step through the process of the research.

Table of Contents | Reference Sources | Exhibit Introduction
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Introduction | Essay | Timeline | 10 Accounts | Biographies
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