Sunday, March 20, 2016

Primary sources in research

Hi all,

I thought I would take this opportunity to write a piece about the use of "primary/original" sources in research, as you often see these terms mentioned in my blog posts.

What do I mean by "primary/original" source material? 

Suppose in writing about a UAP incident, I refer to a reference to it, in a book by Smith F. titled
"UFOs are Real" page 21. You turn to page 21 of that book which you have on your bookshelf, and there it mentions that the author, Frieda Smith, summarised the sighting from an article by Wendy Torres in the English Flying Saucer Review magazine, volume 6 number 2 page 26. You then find a copy of that FSR, and on page 26 you see that Wendy actually summarised her article from an audio recording between the witness and Jenny Poulis on 26 July 2001.

UFO magazines often contain statements by witnesses in their own words

I would suggest that, only the direct interview with the witness by Jenny Poulis is an "original/ primary" source. It, and it alone, contains the voice of the witness describing in their own words what happened.

Symposium Proceedings very often feature secondary sources


In recent years, I have been able to locate, "primary/original" material on such Australian cases as:

Moe, Victoria. VFSRS transcript of an audio recording with the witness Charles Brew. Even though it isn't an audio recording,  it does contains the witness's direct, own words.

Primary material in an audio transcript
Westall, Victoria. An audio recording between Andrew Greenwood, a witness, and James E McDonald. Contains the witness' voice describing the incident.

Balwyn, Victoria. An audio recording between the witness and James E McDonald. Contains the witness' voice describing the incident.

Why is a "primary/original" source the best?

With an audio recording, you can listen to the witness' own words; the tone; the pauses; the shake in the voice etc.

With a transcript, you loose some of this information but still retain the witness' own description.

With a statement written by the witness, not the investigator, you again have the witness describing what happened in their own words.

Secondary source

With a secondary source such as that of  Wendy Torres. Wendy uses her words to describe what happened. She summarises the witness' original words, in her own words. If a witness says "I saw a very bright light, the size of the Moon" , and Wendy writes "The witness saw a moon-like object". Then, something that was a light, the size of the moon, becomes to the reader's eyes a round yellow object. Here angular size, had been changed to a shape, i.e. a round object.

Books may contain primary, secondary or tertiary sources

In reading original or primary sources, eg Jenny's, and secondary, eg Wendy's, or tertiary source, eg Smith's, quite often as you get further away from the original source, the more the incident becomes distorted.

So, I would argue, that in reading something on the Internet these days, see what their source is and go back from the Internet version to the original/primary source. I think you will find some interesting differences between what you first read, and what you last read.

Naturally, I try and find a primary/original source wherever possible.

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