Writing a technical document always requires some form of research. If the information to be presented is scientific or political, you may have thousands of published sources to access. Some of these sources may be compiled into a data base that is maintained for profit to aid professional researchers. Access to these data bases is usually achieved through a subscription service that may be provided to students at a university or as a corporate account for employees.
Primary and Secondary Data:
Secondary data is information gathered from a source other than the writer’s personal knowledge or experiences. Abstracts for research projects sponsored by state accredited Institutes are often available on-line (NMWRRI Sponsored Projects, n.d.).. This data is usually found in a library or through electronic archive sources. Primary data is the writer’s own witness reports of findings from surveys or field gathering exercises.
When a writer uses the ideas of another person without giving credit to the original author, it is considered theft of intellectual property. Paraphrasing, summarizing, or using direct quotes in a document are all acceptable as long as proper citations of where the original thought came from. The system of giving credit to another person is called documentation and can be in some different formats such as APA or MLA for academic works (Smith-Worthington & Jefferson, 2007/2011, p. 52).
Evaluating Electronic Sources for Credibility:
When gathering information from an electronic source such as the Internet, care must be taken to use factual information from reliable contributors. WIKI-pedia is a collaborative effort to provide data to the World Wide Web by soliciting input from trusted users. In theory it should get a broad overview of most subjects with proper citation documentation appended at the end. In reality, so many posts need time to be monitored by the community to check for accuracy. It is usually a good starting point to follow the leads given in the citations. Private blogs and obviously biased web sites may tell only one side of a topic or be total fantasy with no basis in fact at all. Reviewing the reputation of the author and relying heavily on academic archives for research are safe ways to make a reasonable evaluation of the data presented.
NMWRRI sponsored projects database [Fact sheet]. (n.d.). Retrieved August 3,
2010, from New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute website:
Smith-Worthington, D., & Jefferson, S. (2011). Documenting secondary sources. In
Technical writing for success (3rd ed., p. 52). Mason, OH:
South-Western, Cengage Learning. (Original work published 2007)