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Researcher Skills Toolkit

Determine the type of information

2. Determine the type of information required


Your research will determine the type of information you should consult. Each type of publication includes qualities that best serve certain purposes.

Knowing the qualities and limitations of each type of publication will assist your research process.

 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

If you need background information or in-depth analysis on a topic, books are often the best place to start. 

Books can provide context in relation to other relevant issues, and summarise research in a particular area or provide a historical overview.  

Books do not necessarily provide the latest research as they can take up to several years to be published.

However, books are also increasingly available in an online format, which can provide more up-to-date content. 

Library catalogues, for example, Library Search, TROVE, WorldCat
 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

 Journals are published on a regular basis (e.g., monthly, quarterly) and provide one of the most up-to-date sources of peer-reviewed information.  

 Articles tend to focus on specific topics 

 Articles are often the only place where some research is published. 

Journal articles do not usually include background information. 

Articles may include specialist language for the subject area which may not be familiar to researchers outside that discipline. 


Journal databases 
 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Preprints speed up the process of disseminating information, particularly in rapidly changing areas of research. 

Preprints are open access and freely available. 

Can help to improve the published article by providing the research community with the opportunity to comment on and review manuscripts prior to publication.

Preprints often publish null or negative results of research. These results are often not published in journals.

Preprints have not been peer reviewed, therefore quality may be an issue.

Preprints are available via a wide variety of servers. 

Preprints are not comprehensively indexed in the major databases. 


Preprint servers
 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Conference presentations are often the first place that results of research are reported, so they represent the most current source of research results. 

Conference proceedings are often difficult to locate. 

In some disciplines an abstract or poster is all that is published or available. 


Library databases 

Indexes to grey literature 

Conference sites

 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Primary sources for legal research 

Commentary or discussion of cases and legislation provides explanations and context of legal issues. 

Multiple or parallel citations for cases may be confusing. 

Unreported cases can be difficult to locate.

Understand the difference between an authorised and unauthorised version of a case. 


Case citators 

Court and tribunal websites 

Government websites 

Library databases 

 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Government documents

Primary sources for information related to government policies, departments, committees, legislation, Parliamentary debates, and statistics. 

Usually free to access via government websites. 

Useful for comparing current and historical trends and issues. 

May not be available online or free to access 

Can be difficult to access e.g., change of name of department, location not always clear  


Government websites 


 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Theses & Dissertations

Substantial original research in specialised areas providing detailed analysis and data. 

Typically, they include extensive bibliographies. 

A thesis may be the only work available on a topic. 

Research may focus too narrowly on one area. 

Research may be very new and lack previous studies.    

Theses can be difficult to identify and locate, especially if the full text is not available online. 


Library databases 

Theses repositories 

See the Library's Theses & Dissertations Guide


 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Statistics can support and strengthen an argument and help to predict outcomes. 

Produced by government agencies, international organisations, special interest groups. 

Because a wide range of organisations produce statistics they should be carefully evaluated for relevance, reliability. 

Consider the methodology used to collect and document the statistics. 

May not be available electronically, or free to access (restricted to organisational use only). 

Library databases 

Government and organisation websites 

See the Library's Statistics Guide



 Useful for  Caution  Where to locate

Grey literature is useful for locating the latest information from industry or government sources.

It can be published more quickly than other information sources as it is not usually subject to a lengthy peer-review process. 

Grey literature can provide alternative viewpoints in a research area and reduce the risk of bias. 

Can be difficult to identify and locate. 

Often not available online, particularly older documents.

Typically, not peer reviewed, and there may be variety in the quality of information. 

Large volume and diversity of grey literature can be over-whelming. 

General and specialist internet search engines

Grey literature databases, such as GreyNet 

Government, corporate, society and institution websites 

See the Library's Grey Literature Guide

Primary, secondary and tertiary sources

When evaluating the quality of the information you are using, it is useful to identify whether you are using a primary, secondary, or tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able to recognise whether the author is reporting on his/her own first-hand experiences or relying on the views of others.

  Description Humanities & Social Sciences Sciences
Primary source

Primary sources present original research methods or findings for the first time.

They are the earliest information available and often contain firsthand/eye-witness information, original thinking or original data on a topic.

Primary documents enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.

Original manuscripts, eye-witness accounts, diaries, memoirs, letters, journals,

Case law, legislation, court reports,

Photographs, drawings, posters, film footage, sheet music, songs, interviews, government documents.

Reporting/results of original research, experiments or thoughts, datasets.

Secondary source

Secondary sources are any published or unpublished work that is one step removed from the original source.

They usually describe, summarise, analyse, evaluate, derive from, or are based on primary source material. 

Also refers to material other than primary sources used in the preparation of a written work.

A review, critical analysis, second-hand account, or biographical or historical study. 

Journal articles, books and textbooks.

Journal articles, books and textbooks

Tertiary source Tertiary sources are works which summarise, index, organise and compile information in primary and secondary sources to provide background on a topic, idea, or event. Reference materials, databases, encyclopaedias, dictionaries Reference materials, databases, encyclopaedias, dictionaries
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