There is a common misconception that I’ve encountered from no less than 6 people in the last few weeks. That misconception, unfortunately, is that sourcing your work provides indisputable evidence that your belief is true or correct. Equally as unfortunate as the fact that such an idea exists in the first place, is the fact that sourcing your work does not work in such a manner.
I’ll admit that I am by no means the best at sourcing my work. I could make excuses for it, but the fact of the matter is that I am often too lazy to track down this thing or that thing when I write a post about the subject- sometimes 6 years after the fact. This is a huge character flaw of mine, this laziness. However, sourcing your work is still important for many reasons.
The first reason is that doing so promotes academic integrity by giving credit to those whose work influenced yours, or was even featured in your own work (therefore avoiding Plagiarism). Secondly, it places your ideas within the context of wider discussion on the topic- whether that discussion is currently occurring, or occurred in the past. Thirdly, sourcing shows how you came to your conclusion by showing readers the material which affected its development. It also allows those same readers to continue reading about the topic by having a convenient list of materials which are relevant to it. More importantly, however, is the fact that it allows for the peer review of your hypothesis and gives people the opportunity to double check your work.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see the importance of sourcing any claims you make- whether you’re talking about Polytheism or something else. However, another mistake you should be careful to avoid is the mistake of believing that all sources are adequate, valid, informed, or otherwise correct. As much as we would like them to be, not all sources are created equal; there very much are “bad” sources and “good” sources. Regardless of their status, though, all sources fall into three main categories.
Primary Sources are direct materials. These are any initial events, discoveries, items, research, or experiences which serve as the “first instance of occurrence”. In Irish Polytheism, for instance, our Primary Sources are those texts like The Invasions of Ireland and their various translations. Additionally, they may also be Archaeological discoveries like the Clonycavan Man, Linn Duachaill (a Viking settlement in Ireland), the Tipperary Psalter (a Latin Manuscript), and other Archeological, Scientific, or related finds.
Secondary Sources, however, are any body of work which is based on those primary sources. These discuss ideologies, theories, opinions, and other aspects related to them, but are not the Primary Sources themselves. Using Irish Polytheism as an example again, a Secondary Source could be a paper which details the findings of a study done on artifacts removed from Linn Duachaill. Likewise, it could also be a paper detailing the method used to make the Vellum of the Tipperary Psalter; these are things which are directly related to the Primary Source, which discuss and examine it, but which are not the Primary Source itself.
Tertiary Sources, on the other hand, are materials based on multiple Secondary Sources. Going back to our Irish example once more, a Tertiary Source could be something like a critique of the paper detailed above concerning the Tipperary Psalter and the methods used to create its Vellum- where that critique draws from multiple additional Secondary Sources in order to make their argument against the theory outlined by the paper it was written in response to.
Arguably you want to aim for Primary and Secondary Sources above all else depending on what the subject is. Likewise, you want to aim for sources from specific places- like Academic Institutions, Scientific Groups, and the like. In web terms, these are usually sites like .Gov, .Edu, .Info. Not all “good” sources like this, however, will follow this domain rule. Still, it’s a good rule to keep in mind.
Above and beyond everything else, the sources themselves determine whether or not your argument is worth listening to in the first place– and they do so by establishing your credibility and overall authority on the topic. In other words, the quality of your sources could show whether or not your argument is appropriately informed by a wide range of relevant research- something which then, in turn, establishes whether or not it should therefore be treated with seriousness and consideration. Picking good sources, then, becomes an integral part to any sort of research- and poor sources (or no sources at all) do very much make you seem less credible for a number of valid reasons.
Likewise, never make the mistake of believing that because you Sourced it, it means that it’s true; while sourcing your work has a multitude of functions which are important to establishing credibility, integrity, and honesty? Providing sources does not, in fact, prove that your overall conclusions or arguments are correct, valid, factual, accurate, or true by default. It simply allows for the full and complete, accurate critique and peer review of your material- and the arguments, ideals, and theories [sic] that are expressed within it.
Believing that sourcing your work proves its validity beyond a shadow of a doubt, however, only results in the inability to accept this critique or dissent. Additionally, it can lead to your actively attempting to silence that critique… All of which, ultimately, are negative traits and actions through and through- traits which are counterproductive to intellectual growth and development, among other things. And the fact of the matter is that most things are classifiably opinions. This is true regardless of whether or not those opinions are founded on a mountain of research. These opinions are very validly subject to scrutiny; they are not free from contestation, nor should we ever believe that they should be.
For more reading on the topic, please view the following links
- Acknowledging Your Sources
- What are sources?
- MLA: Using Sources Correctly
- How Do I Correctly Cite (Internet) Sources?
- How Do I Cite Sources?
- Various Examples of Acceptable and Unacceptable Academic Resources