In any investigation, whether the field is journalism, history or politics, the goal is to locate primary sources. Where primary sources are not found, secondary sources can be used.
What is most important is clearly stating the source.
We can review two colleges' description of primary sources and secondary sources. See Research Process published by Northcentral University Library
Primary resources contain first-hand information, meaning that you are
reading the author’s own account on a specific topic or event that
s/he participated in. Examples of primary resources include scholarly
research articles, books, and diaries. Primary sources such as
research articles often do not explain terminology and theoretical
principles in detail. Thus, readers of primary scholarly research
should have foundational knowledge of the subject area. Use primary
resources to obtain a first-hand account to an actual event and
identify original research done in a field. For many of your papers,
use of primary resources will be a requirement.
Examples of a primary source are:
- Original documents such as diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, records, eyewitness accounts, autobiographies
- Empirical scholarly works such as research articles, clinical reports, case studies, dissertations
- Creative works such as poetry, music, video, photography
Secondary sources describe, summarize, or discuss information or
details originally presented in another source; meaning the author, in
most cases, did not participate in the event. This type of source is
written for a broad audience and will include definitions of
discipline specific terms, history relating to the topic, significant
theories and principles, and summaries of major studies/events as
related to the topic. Use secondary sources to obtain an overview of a
topic and/or identify primary resources. Refrain from including such
resources in an annotated bibliography for doctoral level work unless
there is a good reason.
Examples of a secondary source are:
- Publications such as textbooks, magazine articles, book reviews, commentaries, encyclopedias, almanacs
Identifying Primary and Secondary Resources by Santiago Canyon College
Sources of information are often categorized as primary or secondary
depending upon their originality. Click here
https://vimeo.com/scclibrary/primary-and-secondary-sources/ to view
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.). In scientific
research, primary sources present original thinking, report on
discoveries, or share new information.
Examples of primary sources:
- Autobiographies and memoirs
- Diaries, personal letters, and correspondence
- Interviews, surveys, and fieldwork
- Internet communications on email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups
- Photographs, drawings, and posters
- Works of art and literature
- Books, magazine and newspaper articles and ads published at the time
- Public opinion polls
- Speeches and oral histories
- Original documents (birth certificates, property deeds, trial transcripts)
- Research data, such as census statistics
- Official and unofficial records of organizations and government agencies
- Artifacts of all kinds, such as tools, coins, clothing, furniture, etc.
- Audio recordings, DVDs, and video recordings
- Government documents (reports, bills, proclamations, hearings, etc.) Patents
- Technical reports
- Scientific journal articles reporting experimental research results
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.).
Examples of secondary sources:
- Biographical works
- Reference books, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases
- Articles from magazines, journals, and newspapers after the event
-Literature reviews and review articles (e.g., movie reviews, book reviews)
- History books and other popular or scholarly books
- Works of criticism and interpretation
- Commentaries and treatises
- Indexes and abstracts
The publisher of the book made a press release Simon & Schuster to Publish Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House on JULY 30, 2018 relevant to the book by Bob Woodward, which in pertinent part states
Drawing from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources,
contemporaneous meeting notes, files, documents and personal diaries,
FEAR brings to light the explosive debates that drive decision-making
in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White
Also instructive specifically in the field of journalism is Handbook of Journalism Vetting Tips by Reuters
Checking Stories for Fairness
Before You Publish: Some Thoughts
Follow the Trust Principles. Our stories should be balanced and free
- Seek comment from everyone named in the story. The goal is to practice “no surprises” journalism: The people and institutions we are
writing about shouldn’t be surprised when they read our story about
them. Fully explain to them what we’re saying about them, and seek
- Craft a nut or significance paragraph(s) high up. It should explain why the story matters; and, if the story is a scoop of fact or
analysis, it should explain what’s original about the story. Make sure
the reporting delivers on the promise of the nut.
- State explicitly why a story’s premise may be overstated. In other words, don’t shy away from acknowledging the story may be more
complicated than it seems and add nuance. (“To be sure…”)
- Disclose the holes in a story. Acknowledging the key facts or mysteries our reporting could not resolve adds to a story’s
- When a key subject, company or institution declines to comment, provide its point of view. Preferably, this would come from a
credible, on-the-record source; at the very least, provide contextual
information that may put things in a more neutral light.
- State clearly what already is already known about the subject we are writing about and what is new news.
- Use anonymous quotes only if they are absolutely crucial. Otherwise, paraphrase or cut -- especially anonymous critics attacking other
people. The goal of any story is to use only on-the-record sources.
- Show, don’t tell. Anecdotes, examples, documentary evidence and statistics should be the meat of our stories, in most cases. Quotes
should be the spice.
- Be sure the outside “experts” we cite really know what they are talking about. If they and other sources have an agenda or axe to
grind, disclose it.
- Anticipate how an ongoing story is likely to develop and flag to readers what may be the next shoe(s) to drop.
- Bring stories that read overly prosecutorial or conclusory into tonal balance, avoiding language that makes it look like we are taking
sides. For example, “he/she says” vs. “he/she admits” is neutral – and
- If this story were about a family member, would you find it fair?
- Again, follow the Trust Principles. When in doubt, cut the copy, seek more reporting – or spike.
What is instructive in this case is the conversation between Bob Woodward and President Donald Trump published by the Washington Post September 4, 2018 concerning the book at Exclusive: Listen to Trump’s conversation with Bob Woodward, where Woodward describes his attempts to interview President Trump himself, his investigative methodologies how sources are named and quoted, and President Trump more than once stating that "nobody mentioned it" to him responding to Woodward's attempts to interview the President
President Trump: What you can count on is that I have been very careful. And. Evelyn, are you on?
Evelyn Duffy: Yes.
Bob Woodward: Evelyn Duffy, who is my assistant, Mr. President.
President Trump: Hello, Evelyn.
Bob Woodward: She transcibed all the tapes cause with permission I taped people for hundred of hours.
President Trump: Good.
Bob Woodward: And I think there's nothing in this book that doesn't come from a first hand source. Is that is correct, Evelyn?
Evelyn Duffy: I believe that's
President Trump: But are you naming names? Or do you just say sources?
Bob Woodward, Yeah, well, it names real incidents, so
President Trump: No but do you name sources? I mean naming the people? Or just say, you know, "people have said"?
Bob Woodward: I say, at 2 o'clock on this day, the following happened, and eveyone who's there, including yourself, is quoted. And
I'm sorry I didn't get to ask you about these.
Bob Woodward: Everything is going to be factual. And it is not a good thing for my business, if I may say this to you, Mr. President,
to the presidency, or to the country, to not have real, full exchanges
on these. And I broke my speak on it trying to get to you.
President Trump: Well, other than Lindsey, who did mention it, nobody mentioned it.