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December 3, 2014 / C H Thompson

Qualitative secondary sources

Qualitative secondary sources include newspapers, films, radio broadcasts; Youtube clips; Facebook posts (diary);facebook diary autobiographies, letters; diaries; school records; police records; content analysis; minutes from meetings to name but a few. The accompanying links provide you with good examples if you’re at all uncertain as what each one is.

Advantages of this form of data:

  • qualitative secondary sources are sometimes the only form of information available on a particular topic. For example Laslett’s research on the family across several centuries wouldn’t have been possible if records hadn’t been kept. This shows how this form of documentation is useful for making comparisons over time
  • qualitative secondary sources provide a gateway into the past allowing researchers to understand the concerns and attitudes of people at the time. This can be carried out by reading letter columns in newspapers as well as comment postings on online newspapers such as the Guardian for example
  • analysing historical documents is useful in allowing interpretivists to gain insights into the beliefs, values and ideologies held by their authors

Disadvantages of qualitative secondary sources of data

  • how credible is the evidence. An individual diary entry could be full of exaggerations and biases, moreover any entry could merely reflect the interests and beliefs of the author. For example autobiographies and diaries of politicians might contain selected content in order to portray the author in a more positive light
  • how representative is the evidence? It could be that other documents which would challenge an account of are ignored in order to keep the author in a positive light
  • how credible is the evidence? For example newspaper accounts of an incident might reflected the values of the newspaper creating the report




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