Secondary Sources – Can They Be More Useful Than Primary Sources?

Secondary Sources – Can They Be More Useful Than Primary Sources?

Margaret Kolozsvary

For the work that we do at The Prosecution Project, it is crucial that we have an abundance of sources that we can turn to when we are looking for additional cases to add to our growing database. While we can use a multitude of sources to find our data, such as court documents, local news sources, and governmental releases, one of the best sources to turn to is an academic database that houses data in which we can turn to and trust. According to Joe Whittaker, there has been a growth in access to sources such as these but there is still a gap in the reliance on using these sources for the type of research that we conduct (Whittaker, 2019). The midterm and final project that we were assigned to work on throughout the semester, to be worked on concurrently with the research that we do every week, asked us to do something that would assist the growth of the project. 

The options were rather endless – it could be a procedural change to the way that we gather data or just a project that makes a positive impact on tPP. My partner and I considered that if we were to use three data sources that held criminal justice data, then we could successfully add new cases to our database and be able to reflect on those cases, citing that they were taken from a credible and academic source. 

We wanted to make sure that the secondary sources that we were using in our research collection would be beneficial to the project as a whole and that our team could look at the collection and believe that the project had progressed because of our work. In the work that we do, secondary sources are crucial to creating a successful database, as they include “journalistic articles, scholars’ analysis of data, or documentaries” (Whittaker, 2019). The sources that we used for our final project were all secondary sources, as they took collections of criminal justice information and were formed into an analysis of data, as previously mentioned by Whittaker. According to Whittaker, “primary sources are considered to be more valuable [in research] than secondary ones because the interpreting author can have a number of vested interests and biases,” but this is not the case in the research that we do because we are aided by the fact that a large number of cases have been collected and explained in one format through a secondary source.

We began this process by studying the George Washington Program on Extremism publication that was titled “White Supremacist Terror: Modernizing Our Approach to Today’s Threat.” At The Prosecution Project, we conduct a procedure called scraping, as we diligently “scrape” through the sources that we choose, and from there we take down the names of each person, or white supremacist in this case, that is mentioned. We then check it against our pre-existing data set and if it hasn’t been coded, we go ahead and follow our procedure for coding and collecting all necessary data. This process of collecting qualitative data is what feeds the project. Our database is not built through reading local news over and over again, but is built through analyzing academic databases, major journals, and reports so that we can collect a large collection of data at once. 

In order for the type of research that we do to be done properly and to the best of our ability, our team often turns to secondary sources to be able to complete the work that we have to do. These sources provide us with a broad array of possible cases and are often created by data analytic centers with the goal of combining a lot of data into one concise article. For the purpose of my final project and the process of scraping, secondary sources were crucial for the success of our creation of case starters.  


Whittaker, Joe. “Building Secondary Source Databases on Violent Extremism: Reflections & Suggestions.” Researching Violent Extremism Series. Washington, DC: Resolve Network/United States Institute of Peace, July 2019.

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