Writing about Secondary Sources All valid research begins with a survey of existing scholarship. The extent of that survey will depend on the scope of the research; regardless, all researchers must demonstrate a gesture toward some of the issues, concerns, and other conclusions made prior to his/her own research project. Often, this survey of existing scholarship is called the literature review. The literature review is, in essence, writing from secondary sources. The best use of secondary sources involves reading for patterns in ideas, issues, or arguments, and then organizing your writing around those patterns. Put another way, any writing you do from secondary sources should be MORE THAN SIMPLE SUMMARY. Instead, you should SYNTHESIZE the sources in a way that demonstrates you understand how the different sources related to one another. Sometimes it helps to put your notes from reading secondary sources into a table, so that you can see more clearly the ways ideas from different sources might interact with one another. Notice how I’ve taken two secondary sources (excerpted here), and placed them into a table to help me see larger issues and make topic sentences for paragraphs: From “Is the Internet Helping Us Evolve?” by David Brin: Clay Shirky, the technology forecaster and author of "Here Comes Everybody," presents an … impressive array of evidence showing that the ability of individuals to autonomously scan, correlate and creatively utilize vast amounts of information is rising faster, almost daily. In the human experience, never before have so many been able to perceive, explore, compare, analyze and argue over evidence that questions rigid assumptions. How can this not lead to insights and exciting new breakthroughs at an accelerating pace? From “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr: Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle. SYNTHESIS TABLE: Issue #1: The changing human interaction with information TOPIC SENTENCE: There is disagreement among thinkers concerning whether the internet is useful for researchers, writers, and thinkers. David Brin Positive: How can this [the changing experience] be a bad thing? Cites Clay Shirky for support that people have the ability to use this “vast array” of information effectively. Nicholas Carr Negative: The changing experience is potentially damaging. Cites his own personal experience with reading on the internet as having a detrimental effect on his attention. Issue #2: Issue #3 TOPIC SENTENCE: Now, attempt to unpack an issue and build a topic sentence based on the following excerpts. Use the above table if you like. From “Is the Internet Helping Us Evolve?” by David Brin: Clay Shirky, the technology forecaster and author of "Here Comes Everybody," presents an … impressive array of evidence showing that the ability of individuals to autonomously scan, correlate and creatively utilize vast amounts of information is rising faster, almost daily. In the human experience, never before have so many been able to perceive, explore, compare, analyze and argue over evidence that questions rigid assumptions. How can this not lead to insights and exciting new breakthroughs at an accelerating pace? So, is the Google era empowering us to be better, smarter, more agile thinkers? Or devolving us into distracted, manic scatterbrains? Is technology-improved discourse going to turn us all into avid, participatory problem solvers? Or will the Web’s centrifugal effects spin us all into little islands of shared conviction — midget Nuremberg rallies — where facts become irrelevant and any opinion can be a memic god? Alas, both sides are right. And both are missing key points. If I must simplistically choose between Teilhardists and renunciators, my sentiments go with the optimists who helped bring us to this party we’re all enjoying — the worldwide culture and Internet that lets me share these thoughts with you and that empowers the grouches to be heard. Luddism has always been a lame and deep-down hypocritical option. From “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” By Nicholas Carr Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).