[Tipster] Why You Must Get as Close to the Original Source in Research

tipster post Jul 14, 2023

When my son was on his high school mock trial team, I was given a crash course on the objections in law. 

To name a few, there’s “Objection! Argumentative.” “Objection! Lack of foundation.” “Objection! Leading.” “Objection! Non-responsive.” “Objection! Outside the scope of cross examination.”

And then there’s, “Objection! Hearsay.”

If you were swept up in the Johnny Depp - Amber Heard defamation trial, you likely are familiar with “hearsay.”

On Reddit, a person asked how many times Amber Heard’s lawyer called hearsay. The first person to respond jokingly said, “At least 93825923856982635.”

Hearsay was called so frequently, by the time Depp took the stand, he called hearsay on his testimony about a snippet of conversation he had with his driver about his ex.

“Hearsay” simply is when a witness relates statements of an out-of-court communication as fact. “He told me this happened…” or “She said that he did that…” for instance. 

You need to have played only one game of telephone as a child to understand why secondhand conversations aren’t accepted as evidence.

Truth is watered down—or outright distorted—with each transmission of another’s story.

What it really comes down to is credibility—the quality that makes something worthy of belief. The most credible evidence comes from the original source.

A similar principle applies to research in nonfiction writing. The closer your research is to the original source, the more nuanced and authoritative your writing will be.

That’s because you’re not relying on someone else’s interpretation of a topic. You are investigating, synthesizing, and interpreting.

The Etymology of “Author”

Check out the etymology of the word “authority.”

Not surprisingly, it’s related to the word “author.” It comes from the Latin stem of auctōritās (“invention, advice, opinion, influence, command”) and from auctor (“master, leader, author”). 

Authority in writing is about commanding a topic by leading a fresh conversation (root = “invention”).

I have struggled with “authority” as I work out the idea for my book on collecting that I’m in the incipient stages of formulating.

My initial research took me to books and articles written on the topic of collecting—mostly by Martha Stewarts’ team. That’s basic competitive research, and that type of research is critical in the idea-formation phase.

Not only did the material provide insight about the current conversation around collecting, it also helped me frame the psychology of collecting.

A couple of the sources referred to a clinical psychologist who has done research on the topic.

I’m not at the point of writing my book, but if I were, it would be wrong for me to generally cite the book that cited the psychologist. 

It would be better if I went to the studies the psychologist referenced and draw my own conclusions. 

Better yet would be if I hit the street and asked collectors why they collect.

Which is what I did in June.

What It Looks Like to Get to the Original Source

A vintage shop in Michigan invited me to host a collecting roundtable. About 30 collectors showed up with one item from one of their collections. Each shared a story of why they collect what they collect. 

One woman held up a bird nest and shared that she collects them because going on nature walks was her favorite activity to do with her grandson before he tragically died.

A man showed off a wood carving tool from his antique tool collection. The way he bonded with his father as a child was going to farm auctions. That’s when his collection began. And it’s why he continues to collect: to feel near to his father.

Another woman shared a tin of buttons. She said she has thousands upon thousands of buttons and that her favorite activity is organizing them by color, texture, and age.

I shared my French beaded flowers, a collection I’ve committed to because of the craftsmanship involved with the creation of each bloom, and because they’re rare. 

There were 25 other stories that highlighted 25 other reasons for collecting.

This type of research is called qualitative research. And my job as the author is to draw principles and truths from these stories. That’s authority. It originates from you—the author.

For instance, we collect to connect to the past. We collect to create bonds. We collect because we are compelled to order and arrange things. We collect because we feel unique in finding unique, rare items.

As you do research, stick to this principle: get as close to the original source as possible.

That doesn’t mean you don’t do secondary research. But your authority will strengthen with primary research.

Melissa Parks



Email: [email protected]