Skip to main content

IA 701: Seminar (UNH Durham)

Three types of resources

In general, there are three types of resources or sources of information: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  It is important to understand these types and to know what type is appropriate for your coursework prior to searching for information.

It's sometimes difficult to distinguish among these three types and they do vary by discipline and subject..

  1. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based; for example,
    • original works (written, spoken, recorded, visual) – poems, diaries, court records, interviews, surveys, polls, newsreel footage, newspaper articles about events, art works, statistical information, and original research/fieldwork; and
    • original research published in scholarly/academic journals
  2. Secondary sources are those that describe, critique, or analyze primary sources; for example:
    • books and articles that interpret, review, or synthesize original research/fieldwork
    • sometimes reference materials – dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks
    • review articles in the sciences and social sciences
  3. Tertiary sources are those used to organize and locate secondary and primary sources. Can also be compilations or highly distilled summaries offer factual representation rather than viewpoints or critiques.
    • Indexes – provide citations that fully identify a work with information such as author, titles of a book, article, and/or journal, publisher and publication date, volume and issue number and page numbers.
    • Abstracts – summarize the primary or secondary sources,
    • Databases – are online indexes that usually include abstracts for each primary or secondary resource, and may also include a digital copy of the resource.
    • sometimes reference materials – dictionaries, encyclopedias, chronologies, directories

Article Purposes

Reports original research or experimentation

  • Empirical: analyzes data collected by the article's authors themselves or by others (for example, US Census data)

Critically surveys and analyzes the current state of published research on a particular topic; doesn't include original research

  • Includes narrative literature reviews, systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-synthesis

Describes one or more theories, frameworks, models, etc. and tends not to include empirical data 

  • May describe development  of a theoretical approach, compare theories, or discuss issues surrounding a theory

What a LIterature Review Does

Makes you an informed researcher/applicant

Provides perspective by situating your work within the knowledge base (theory & practice) of your field

Supports your research idea/proposal or identifies a gap needing further research

Provides ideas for research design; for example, quantitative or qualitative approaches or instruments to use

Provides credibility to grant proposals