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1.6 Types of sources

Determine your information  needs
1.1 Define your topic
1.2 Increase familiarity with your topic
1.3 Map your ideas
1.4 Types of assignment
1.5 Amount of information
* 1.6 Types of sources
1.7 Types of publications
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You may be directed to use only primary sources for your assignment...

...while other assignments might require use of both primary and secondary sources.

Why choose a primary source?

primary sources

Primary sources come directly from the source or person. They are original materials, which have not been filtered through interpretation.

Most scholarly research is based on primary sources because it generates more accurate and efficient research. When information is four or five times removed from the source, it is easy for detail to be lost or ideas misinterpreted.

For example:

  • journal articles (when discussing original ideas or reporting original research)
  • books (when discussing original ideas or reporting original research)
  • statistics, interviews and surveys
  • newspaper articles (when written at the time of an event)
  • photographs, music and art work
  • statutes and law reports.

Secondary sources analyse, interpret and comment on primary information.

For example:

  • journal articles (when they report or summarise the findings of others)
  • books (when the material is drawn from other work and intended as a topic overview or summary)
  • newspaper articles (when offering commentary or opinions)
  • literature reviews
  • encyclopaedias or dictionaries

The terms primary and secondary may have a discipline specific meaning. If you are in doubt, check with your tutor.

Distinguishing between types of sources enables critical evaluations to be made about the information.

You are now sharpening your focus by selecting your sources. But which publication type will ensure the information is current and appropriate to your information need?

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