In one recent post, we outlined how to find primary sources and how you might use them in your dissertation. Primary sources are distinct from secondary sources, another type of source that can help you in the dissertation writing process.

What are Secondary Sources?

Primary sources are, essentially, raw data and information, and the dissertation writer's job is to process that information. Secondary sources are sources in which someone has analyzed primary sources or data. The University of Maryland library says that secondary sources are “interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.”

Secondary sources could include work by other scholars, including journal articles, books, and dissertations. They might also include non-fiction books and biographies that aren't intended for academic readers, as well as other types of essay or commentary that describe and analyze primary sources.

How do I Find Secondary Sources?

A library is one of your best sources for secondary sources and all manner of dissertation help.

Finding Books

Once you have a dissertation topic, try using a keyword or subject search in your library catalog to find books related to your topic. Once you've used the catalog to locate a few books that might be useful to you, use their call numbers to locate them on the shelves. Be sure to take a look at books that are shelved near the one that you went looking for – since books are organized according to topic, it’s likely that you'll find other useful secondary sources related to your topic that way.

Finding Articles

Databases like Google Scholar and JSTOR are great resources for finding articles. Once you have a dissertation topic, use these sites to search for keywords or subjects related to your topic. A keyword or subject search on these sites will bring up scholarly articles that reference your search terms. You may have to do some digging through these search results to find those that are most closely related to your dissertation topic. A dissertation consultant can help you with this process. If you access JSTOR, Google Scholar, or similar sites via your school's library, you should be able to access many of the articles that you'll find there free of charge.

How can Secondary Sources Help My Dissertation?

Reading secondary sources can be a huge source of dissertation help: doing so will help you learn what other scholars and writers have to say about your dissertation topic. Once you understand what other scholarly work is out there, you can articulate how your dissertation will be different, how it will improve on the existing scholarship, and how it will make an important contribution to your field.

Using Secondary Sources in Literature Reviews

When you are writing your dissertation, you will likely include sections in which you talk about secondary sources. This is often referred to as the “literature review.” We've written about how to approach a literature review here. The literature review is where you demonstrate that you've done your homework and that you know what other authors have had to say about your dissertation topic. Writing about secondary sources in your dissertation has two major purposes: first, it lets you position yourself in a community of scholars. Second, it lets you explain how your dissertation will contribute to that community.

Secondary Sources can Provide Ideas for Dissertation Methods and Approaches

Secondary sources can also help with dissertation writing by giving you ideas for how to analyze your primary sources. Maybe the author of one of your secondary sources analyzes a primary source using a method that you find interesting and perceptive. You could take that method and apply it to your primary sources. Or perhaps the author of one of your secondary sources analyzes a primary source in a way that you think is off-base. You could write about that same primary source in your dissertation, but approach it from a new direction.

Need help finding and evaluating secondary sources? Dissertation Editor's consultants can help you find the major secondary sources that are relevant to your topic and field, and assist you with the work of evaluating those sources. In addition, our dissertation editors can help you write effective literature reviews. Finally, when the time comes to file, you'll want to make sure all of your secondary sources are cited accurately. Our dissertation formatting experts can make sure that your citations adhere to APA Style, Chicago/Turabian Style, MLA Style, Harvard Bluebook, or any other major citation style.
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