English 101 | Unit 2

Genres and Primary Sources

Unit 2 | Genres and Primary Sources

Unit 2 | Overview: Types of Primary Sources

Welcome to Unit 2


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Overview of Concepts

In Unit 2, we're looking at the relationship between primary sources and genre. You'll learn how to determine if a source is a primary source, and then how the types of primary sources you find will exhibit different conventions depending up their genre.

Here the key terms to learn by the end:

  • Primary Source: a source that's been produced by individuals directly involved in the topic you're studying.

  • Genre Conventions: the "rules" of a given genre.

For this unit, you'll also be writing your first article for Project 1. You'll choose a specific situation or aspect of your project topic, find three primary sources related to this, and then write a 300-word article with works cited. In the discussions leading up to this article, you'll share the three sources with your classmates, and then describe how each source will help with your writing.


Unit 2 | Lecture: Primary Sources in Research

Primary Sources: Straight from the Topic

A primary source is anything that's been produced by individuals directly involved in your topic. The most obvious ones tend to be interviews, but bear in mind that people communicate through all kinds of means. A Facebook status update, a resume, an autobiography — all of these come from individuals describing their own lives in their own words.

A second type of primary source is something produced by the topic. For example, a tax document might be automatically generated by a computer, but that record is a primary source because it has not be influenced by outside users.

One of the biggest issues I see in student papers is confusion about what "counts" as a primary source. Often, there's an impression that certain types of sources are unreliable, and therefore "wrong" for a paper. For example, many students avoid using YouTube videos as sources because they don't feel "academic" enough. Also, some have been told the myth that you should "never use .com websites" because they can't be trusted. But here's the secret about primary sources: they aren't always reliable. Sometimes, they're deeply flawed — your tax form could have a mistake because your employer missed one of your paychecks during IRS reporting. It's rare, it's illegal, it could show an very shady employer — and it would still be a primary source. It would tell us something important about the topic of that employer. The same happens with .com websites. If you want to write about oil and gas companies, a great primary source would be their websites — especially if their websites say one thing, but EPA regulators say something else.

To help illustrate this, here's a video showing the difference between primary and secondary sources:

Video – Hartness Library: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Now, the next thing is finding your primary sources. Given that most of your work will be from home, using the internet is crucial. The following article gives important tips for how to find and evaluate these sources:

Reference and User Services Association: Primary Sources on the Web

Example of Research Sources: My Lovely Car

Have I told you yet how much I love my car? I drive a base-model Kia Soul. It's an amazing vehicle. The engine is so small that I have to downshift to get on the highway. My son and I call it the Road Slug. Because it is.

In the following video, I talk a bit about the types of sources I could use to talk about my car. This is important because many of your topics will be topics that you personally are involved in, and the question comes up "can I use myself as a source?" The short answer is "no," you can't count yourself as a research source, but you can and often should include your experiences in your writing. The trick for a research paper is to find outside sources that support your personal experiences, and then use those strengthen your arguments.


Unit 2 | Discussion: How "I Have a Dream" Was Written

Application discussions require at least one post of 100 words per person, but you can always write as much as you like. In your post, please use concepts from the lecture and direct response to points made by at least two of your classmates. If you are the first two people to post, you’re lucky — you can focus on the lectures!

Also, in case you are having trouble reaching the minimum word count, please scroll to the end for a note about recording and handwriting options for the Discussion Boards.

Application Discussion

For today's application discussion, we're looking at how Martin Luther King "wrote" his "I Have a Dream" speech. Growing up, I always assumed that he had simply written his speech, practiced it, and delivered it. The speech is so well-known that I never really thought about it at all.

This is why primary sources are so important. Those closest to Dr. King — those who were with him in the days and years leading up to the March on Washington, and those who sat on the stage behind him — have insights that we cannot gain simply from watching the speech.

For today's discussion, please review the following sources, and then write your thoughts. Did you see anything surprising? In particular, consider the following:

  • Please watch the full speech in its entirety. Is it different from how you thought it would be? What do you think of the crowd and their responses?

  • Have you heard of Mahalia Jackson or Clarence B. Jones before today?

  • How does the information about Mahalia Jackson change your thoughts about the Civil Rights Movement? Be sure to follow some of the links from the UDL.12Writing page to learn more about her.

Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream

UDL.12Writing.com: “Tell Them About the Dream, Martin!”

Brennan Center – Clarence B. Jones, “Remembering ‘I Have a Dream.’”

Video and Handwriting Options

Quick Note on Word Counts, Typing, and Video Submissions: One of the hardest parts about online courses is the need to type and type and type. Unfortunately, not everyone types very fast. Also, not everyone likes to write. (Just don’t tell my boss I said that . . . I mean, us English teachers are supposed to make everyone love every minute of word vomit we make you share . . . )

Because of this, I’ve left the word count minimums very low. It’s actually very, very hard to get full credit for your posts if you only write these minimums. However, if you’re more comfortable recording yourself and using that to explain your ideas, please feel free — you can upload a sound file or a video for your initial posts and your responses. If your handwriting is legible, you could also handwrite your posts and then upload photos of them. I’ve also had students in the past who write their responses on their smartphones — if that’s better for you, Canvas has an app for you.

About hand injuries . . . in case you ever injure your hand, you’ll have to adapt. I’ve actually had two surgeries on my right wrist (and yes, I’m right handed . . .) I know from experience that left-handed typing for me is painfully slow, and writing with my left hand looks worse than what I wrote in kindergarten. So in case of hand or finger injuries or any other disability requiring accommodation, please let me know. The most important thing is your participation in the course.


Unit 2 | Activity: Formatting Your Citations

One of the most important parts of writing a research paper is citing your sources. For Project 1, we'll be using MLA citation format for your writing — for Project 2, you'll be able to use APA or another standard citation format if you prefer.

In-Text Citations

Whenever you mention a fact in a research paper, you must include an outside source to indicate where you learned this information. If you experienced it yourself, you can certainly say this, but if you didn't witness something personally, you need to indicate where you heard about it from. And for this, you need in-text citations.

The following video explains how to write a proper in-text citation. For this unit's activity, you'll be asked to select the in-text citations that are correct.

Video - Purdue OWL: In-Text Citations

Works Cited

You must, must, must cite every source you quote. This is so your readers can follow up on your research. Sometimes, your readers may want to learn more about your topic. In a classroom setting like this, your instructor (namely me) may need to check your sources to ensure you're citing them correctly.

Now, one of the biggest issues I see is students copying a URL into a citation generator like EasyBib and then using whatever they get as the Works Cited entry. Unfortunately, citation generators make mistakes. Mostly, this isn't the fault of EasyBib — it's due to the fact that libraries have privacy settings on their websites, and many online sources don't format their websites in a way that a citation generator can read the title, author, and date correctly. So in this video, it goes over how to write your own citations:

Video - Purdue OWL: MLA Formatting, Works Cited Page

Additionally, the two following sources provide textual information that may be a bit easier to reference. Since many of your sources will be electronic, the Electronic Sources page is crucial as you write your works cited entries:

Purdue OWL: MLA In-Text Citation Basics

Purdue OWL: Works Cited, Electronic Sources


Unit 2 | Discussion: The Story of Your Topic

This is a Project Discussion. In Project Discussions, you each person needs at least One Initial Post of 100 words, and 3 Response Posts of 50 words each. You can use your Initial Post as a “rough draft” or “notes” for the project assignment due at the end of the unit. I recommend writing your initial post first, then writing responses to your classmates, and then coming back to finish your Project Assignment after you’ve received some feedback. Just note: if you post your initial post late, then your classmates might not have time to post responses.

Also, please feel free to post a recording or video for either your initial or response posts. Sometimes it's easier to explain through talking rather than writing.

The first step in any good research paper involves finding sources. At this stage, the focus is primary sources — I want you to find information that's been directly produced by individuals who are engaged in your topic. As mentioned before, you cannot count yourself as a source. You can certainly write about your personal experiences, but I need proof that you can also find outside sources to support you points.

For your initial post, I'm looking for you to do the following:

  1. Choose a story from your topic. Zero in on a specific event or a specific person, and focus your research on that one thing. The narrower your focus, the better details you'll find for your project.

  2. Find three primary sources from online. For each source, write a correct MLA Works Cited entry, including the hyperlink at the end.

  3. Write a fifty-word annotation for each source. Describe why you chose this source, how it's relevant to your topic, and what information you expect it to provide for your project.

For your three responses, respond to at least three of your classmates with at least 50 words each. Please feel free to write more or longer responses if you like.


Unit 2 | Assignment: Article 1 with Primary Sources

Here, you’ll write a rhetorical analysis of your primary sources. If the rhetorical analysis feels confusing or challenging, that’s actually a good sign — it means that you’re learning. Here, you’ll discuss how the text functions for writers and audiences. Tell us what the texts say, how they say it, and how that messages fits within the context of the situation.

This assignment has three parts:

  1. Introduce your topic and the sources you've found (about 50 words)

  2. Rhetorical Analysis of each source (about 200 words total)

  3. Discussion of how these apply to your topic (about 50 words total)

Note: It's always okay to write longer than the word count. Sometimes it's easier to write more words than it is to edit everything down to something shorter. The most important thing is that you provide all the information required for the assignment.

Assignment Video and Graphics

If you prefer video or graphics, here's the assignment with video and Google Slides. And all the same information is also written below, in case you prefer text.

Part 1: Introduce Your Topic

Tell us what you're writing about. Here's a good place to bring in a personal connection, or maybe mention how your topic relates to society. Then briefly mention which sources you're using. Here's an example. Note that my examples are shorter than your assignment — this is just to give you an idea of the type of writing I'm looking for:

For my example article, I'm looking at how restaurant advertisements affect our choices of where to eat. Since the coronavirus lockdown has kept me at home a lot, I find myself longing to visit some of my favorite restaurants. This gets even harder when I see ads for restaurants — they're designed to lure customers in to order food. For my example article, I'm looking at the blog post for an imagined restaurant that I made up and a billboard for the McDonald's on Main Street, and I'm going to compare how these two advertisements affect my restaurant preferences.

Part 2: Analysis of Each Source

First, address the following key points from the rhetorical triangle for each source:

  • Author: Who wrote it?

  • Purpose: Why was it written?

  • Audience: Who was it written for?

As you consider these, make sure you go into detail. I don’t want “a restaurant owner wrote about his favorite food.” Instead, go into detail, like this:

The author of this blog post is Rudolph Howard, the founder of Rudolph’s Pancake House. Here, he explains that his favorite types of omelets have exotic cheeses, and I believe the purpose of the post is to entice restaurant patrons in Bloomington-Normal to come try the new feta cheese omelet on their updated menu. To better reach this audience, he also posted a link on the restaurant Facebook page, which has 11 fans. I feel kinda bad for him, though — he doesn’t have many fans, and the post has no likes so far. And the blog post was boring, too — he didn’t say why the omelet is tasty, just that "you should try it. I recommend it. Especially with marshmallows on top." In fact, reading that made me want to never visit his restaurant, and I think he should reconsider whether his target audience would willingly consume eggs and marshmallows from the same plate.

Note that opinions are okay! You can use "I" and give your honest thoughts about your sources.

Next, you’re going to look at how your primary sources uses the rhetorical modes of persuasion (ethos, pathos, logos) to communicate, and how these fit with the genre and genre conventions.

Here’s an example:

In this McDonald’s billboard posted on Main Street, they feature an image of a Big Mac. This hamburger it huge — it fills the entire billboard, and it’s printed in very bright colors on a red background so you can see the burger on the billboard from half a mile away. For the genre of billboards, this fits the convention of using very large, very visible images that can be quickly seen and understood by distracted drivers. Next to the picture, they include the word HUNGRY? in bold, bright letters. In fact, just thinking about it makes me hungry, like I should stop writing this lesson plan and go to McDonald’s right now.

Part 3: Discussion of Sources and Your Topic

Discussion takes your analysis a step further. Here, you want to show how your articles fit together, and what they can teach us about your topic.

  • Think of this as the "so what" of your topic. Tell us why these sources are important.

  • Address Multiple Perspectives. I don't want to simply hear "this is the way it is." Instead, tell us "some believe this, others believe that, and I believe this."

Here's an example — note the comparison between Rudolph's and McDonald's and the two perspectives regarding the value of blog posts. And again, note that my example is shorter than what you're required to write:

In comparing the blog post from Rudolph's Pancake House and the billboard from McDonald's, I find that my own food preferences tend to be reinforced. I'm not a huge fan of marshmallows myself, and the idea of marshmallows on eggs is just disgusting. On the other hand, the problem might be one of branding. Instead of sharing a blog post, Rudolph's could have shared images of his food, as McDonald's does — if the restaurant had visually appealing photos of the marshmallow omelet, maybe I'd be more likely to try one. Instead of focusing on a weird ingredient combination, he could have shown the marshmallow omelet as a kind of yummy s'mores alternative. And this, I think, indicates the challenge faced by many new restaurant owners. No matter how delicious the food may be, a restaurant's success is determined by how many customers actually stop by to try the food, and this requires advertising that will entice new customers. Unlike McDonald's, my made-up restaurant wouldn't have word of mouth or a an established reputation to draw new customers. On the other hand, I'm not exactly the most sophisticated restaurant customer. I tend to eat wherever it's cheapest. For those who understand food, a blog post with an in-depth description of the food may be more important than a simple image of the food.

As always, please let me know of questions!

Dr. Edel