Primary versus Secondary Sources

First off, this description is specific to the Fiction Essay and Poetry Essay assignments in my ENG 1002 course, both face-to-face and online. Each of those essays asks students to use primary and secondary source citation to make a critical argument about a piece of short fiction or a poem/pair of poems.

Primary Source

The short story or poetry you are analyzing in  your essay. If your essay is about Disney’s Frozen, then Frozen is your primary source.

Here is an example way in which you can incorporate a primary source citation into your essay writing.

Secondary Source

The article(s) you use to support or make your critical/analytical claims about your short story or poetry. In most academic writing, the secondary source will fall into one of two categories (these categories will vary from instructor to instructor and assignment to assignment based on the assignment and course learning outcomes at hand):

  • academic secondary source: a scholarly journal article found via IVCC’s library databases, a reputable Internet article, streaming content from a TED talk or reputable podcast, and/or a personal interview. Many instructors will allow .org or .gov sites.
  • non-academic secondary source: Internet articles that may not have all of the WWWs, sites such as Wikipedia or Wikihow, documentaries from streaming sites such as Netflix (some instructors will consider documentaries as academic), social media posts, and most general .com sites.

You are expected to know what types of secondary sources are required for each writing assignment. And here is a link to the IVCC Stylebook ‘s “Using Sources” page with additional information about finding credible sources, representing sources fairly, where to use source information, and how to balance your writing voice with that of your sources.


Fiction Essay Useful Resources

Hey #lee1002 and #leeonline, because I know it’s not always convenient to log into Blackboard, here a list of some useful resources you might be looking for while working on your Fiction Essay assignment.


Assignment Resources:

Writing Prompt and downloadable PDF Assignment Sheet:  In a third-person essay, use one of the assigned short stories as a primary source and one scholarly secondary source from a Gale database to answer one of the following prompts:

  1. Analyze what a character could represent/symbolize in society, using both primary and secondary source support.
  2. Argue against the interpretation of your secondary source, using primary source support to back up your claims.
  3. Use a character analysis to argue the author’s social meaning or central theme of the piece.

Planning Resources

Guided Freewrite Exercise
Primary versus Secondary Source explanation
How to Summarize a Short Story’s Plot

Citation Resources

IVCC Style Book Overview of MLA Style
Helpful Research Hints
MLA Citation Basics
Works Cited Page Information

Grading Resources

IVCC English Department Grading Standards
Grading Criteria Rubric for Writing Assignments

Library Links

Remember that you’ll need to log in if you’re not using a campus computer. When you reach the log in screen, you’ll enter 24611 + your student number + 01, and then enter your last name. The approved Gale links you should start with:

If you’re using a topic that is more social science than literature, try these two sites (sources must get special permission to be used):