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Effective Library Research for Business Dissertations: 3. Identify: Information Types

Online support to assist with planning and conducting your library dissertation research


Once you have a good understanding of your research topic, you can move on and consider what types of information sources will help you address that topic.

In all cases you will be using scholarly material such as books and journal articles, but you may need to use a wide variety of other sources too.

For example you may need to explore news sources, official publications, market research reports, company info etc. This will differ hugely between dissertation topics.

Use the Search Strategy Template to note down useful types of sources that you may wish to include in your dissertation.

Activity: Information Sources Quiz

Information Sources: categories

Information Sources are typically categorised into three broad categories based on their proximity to original source material:

  • Primary:  original materials on which other research is based.
  • Secondary: interpretation, commentary or analysis of other sources. 
  • Tertiary: organisation, categorisation, index or collection of sources. 

1. Primary Sources

These are first hand accounts or records of activity as they happened or were created, without any subsequent interpretation or commentary.

Examples include:  

  • Theses and research findings
  • Speeches, correspondence and diaries
  • Financial data, company filings, legal documents

A wealth of primary sources are available to you at the University, many in digital format. Use the archives section of the A-Z Database List to access the various resources. The Primary Sources LibGuide provides guidance on finding primary sources.

2. Secondary Sources

These provide interpretation, commentary or analysis of other sources. They are typically written after the event or activity being discussed,and are not based on direct observation of involvement.

Examples include: 

  • Textbooks, books and journal articles that do not present new research
  • Dissertations
  • Commentaries and criticisms
  • Newspaper articles that are opinions/reviews/analysis rather than first hand reporting on events

Use the Library research tools to help you to search and discover relevant secondary sources. 

3. Tertiary Sources

Organisation, categorisation, index or collection of primary and secondary sources. These sources typically list or collate other sources, rather than adding additional commentary or observations.

Examples include: 

  • Dictionaries & encyclopedias
  • Bibliographies, fact books and digests
  • Directories and guidebooks
  • Indexing and abstracting sources

Many of these resources are now available in digital format - find out more on the Online Reference Resources LibGuide.

Research Resources and Materials

Research material can be drawn from from a wide range of different research resources. As well as using traditional sources such as books and journal articles, you may want to use news items, government reports, statistical or audiovisual material.

Some materials such as scholarly books and journals go through a rigorous 'peer review' process where they are analysed by experts in the field for reliability and quality. However, it can be more difficult to establish the provenance of other sources of information - for example anyone can create and disseminate information via the web. 

In an information rich society, it's crucial to remember that not all information resources are equal! As a researcher, you must evaluate the information you find and decide whether the content is scholarly, accurate and authoritative research material.

Books, such as textbooks, are good for providing an overview of a topic. They undergo an editorial process and are usually written by experts in the subject or professional authors. They contain reference lists or bibliographies so that you can continue to broaden your research.

Many books at the University are available in digital format as e-books. 

Books take time to produce, so may not always contain the most up to date information. 

Journals can provide you with up to date discussion of research topics as they are published more quickly and regularly than books e.g. weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the publication.

Journal articles are written by researchers and experts in their field. Scholarly or academic journals go through a "peer review" process, where a panel of experts assesses the article before it is approved for publication, giving you reassurance that the information is reliable. Like books, the more scholarly articles also contain reference lists or bibliographies so that you can broaden your research by following up leads to related publications.

The majority of the journals available via the library are in digital format.  This means they are available to you any time, any place and ensures you can access the latest journal issues as soon as they are published.

The papers that researchers deliver at conference and symposia around the world are often published after the event, in print and/or digital format. They may be published as a book, in a special issue of a journal or on an organisations' website.  Some may not be published at all.

Published conference papers are often the first time that research findings are publicly presented and debated so they can be sources of cutting edge research.

Many are subject to peer review, just like scholarly journals, which acts as a quality assurance check.

Subject databases may index major conference proceedings as an aid to their discovery. The following tools will also enable you to find conference papers and proceedings in your area.


Web of Science: Conference Proceedings Index 

Web of Science indexes the most significant conferences and seminars since 1990 in  the Science and Social Sciences & Humanities.  Select the proceedings indexes from More Settings on the Web of Science search screen.

Google Scholar

Use the Google Scholar search tool to find conference papers and information that hsa been indexed on the web. Search for your research area, add conference and a year if you wish to pinpoint a particular period.

A thesis or dissertation is a document submitted in support of candidature for a higher degree or professional qualification, presenting the author’s research and findings. Theses are extremely valuable sources of information, as they consist of substantial primary research in specialised topics and provide very detailed data and analysis.

They will also have extensive bibliographies, detailing the published literature on the given research topic.

Use the Finding Theses Quick Guide to learn more about tracking down theses in your field of study both at the University of Exeter and elsewhere.

For many projects you may wish to find detailed information relating to specific companies and organisations. Generally company information falls into three main groupings:

Company documents

Information and documents produced by companies themselves. These could include, annual reports, trading statements, press releases, reports, AGM presentations etc. These documents can often be found on a company's corporate website.

Company data

Key financial figures and statistics relating to the business. A number of resources can provide this information in various levels of depth. For the most detailed breakdown of company finances, try searching the FAME (UK) and Orbis (global) databases.

Company analysis

Independent analysis of a company's performance can be valuable for research. While you may find internal analysis on corporate websites, there are a number of databases which specialise in independent analysis; e.g.Passport and Marketline.

For more information and recommended resources, take a look at our Company & Organisation Information guide.

Market research reports can provide detailed insight into particular industries on a national or global scale. Typical reports will contain information and statistics on the size of the market and key drivers / trends. Depending on the database that you use, you may also be able to access industry SWOT / PESTEL analyses, market forecasts, information on consumer behaviour and ​details of the leading companies and brands within an industry. 


For more guidance on finding market research reports and recommended databases, try our Finding Market Research tutorial.

Statistics is the science of collecting, analysing and presenting numerical data and can be a vital source of information for your studies.

Statistical data can be found on a huge variety of subjects including:

  • the economy
  • employment
  • the environment
  • government
  • health
  • international trade
  • manufacturing
  • population

A wide range of data and statistical sources are available to you via the Data section of the A-Z Database List. Databases covering the science of statistics can be found in the Statistics Subject List. Many organisations and governments also make statistical data freely available.

Use the Finding Statistics: Quick Guide for more information.

News sources can be invaluable research resources. There are various types of news sources you can choose from, including:

  • newspapers
  • newsreels
  • newswires
  • news magazines
  • news monitoring services etc. 

They provide contemporaneous accounts of events as they emerge and unfold, affording a snapshot of developments at a point in time.

By using news archive services, you can also engage in historical research by tracing commentary on issues over time, to identify and track changing political, economic and social trends.

However, remember that many newspapers and their editorials, columns and analysis may have particular political biases. As they are written with a different audience in mind, news articles will not follow the same conventions as academic articles and will usually not contain detailed references.

There is a huge amount of news research material available to you at the University. Explore the Using news resources for research LibGuide to find out more.

Official publications can be broadly defined as the documents and materials produced by the government and governmental departments during the course of government business.

Content ranges from statements of law and policy to government reports and statistics.  These publications can be a valuable primary research source and are especially useful to those researching in law, politics and history.  However, they are of relevance across all subjects as they address all aspects of governmental work such as science, education, law, agriculture, transport, health etc.

To find out more about finding and using official publications, take a look at the Official Publications LibGuide

View the list of Official Publications databases in the Database A-Z List

Search engines such as Google have made it very easy to search and find information via the internet and it is highly likely that you will use the web to find information for your research.

However, the sheer volume of material available means that sometime it can be difficult to find the information you want. Most search engines offer advanced search options that allow you to refine your search i.e. Google Advanced Search.  If you want to find academic materials, search using Google Scholar.

When using material from the internet, you need to exercise caution as anyone can publish information on the web so the quality and reliability of the information is highly variable.  Always evaluate the sources to ensure the material is trustworthy, accurate and authoritative.

As well as the sources outlined earlier, there are a range of other information sources that you can consider drawing on if appropriate during your assessments. These include:

Reference materials (see our guide) Legal sources (see our guide)
Social Media content Audiovisual material (see our resources)
and much more!

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