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, primary sources, company info etc. This will differ hugely between dissertation topics.
Explore the guidance below on categories of information sources and variety of research materials and then take the Quiz to test your knowledge.
Information Sources are typically categorised into three broad categories based on their proximity to original source material:
1. Primary Sources
These are first hand accounts or records of activity as they happened or were created, without any subsequent interpretation or commentary.
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.
Use the Library research tools to help you to find 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.
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.
Most of our film resources are available in digital format via databases such as BFI Screenonline, Box of Broadcasts, British Pathe, Kanopy and MediaPlus.
In addition, the Library has a collection of physical DVDs and videos that can be borrowed. For more information on how to search and access our film, DVDs and video collections, click here.
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum contains useful primary source material, including posters, artefacts, toys and memorabilia covering all aspects of cinema, pre-cinema and the moving image.
To see items you will need to consult them in the reading room. See the website for more information.
Online Film archives
See the Images LibGuide for guidance on selecting and using images in your studies and research.
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 broaden your research by following up leads to related publications.
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.
Use the Articles + more search to find out which articles have appeared in your research area.
They can be really useful resources as you begin your background research into a topic, before you move on to more in depth research via your Subject databases.
In many cases, these resources are now available in digital format, allowing you to easily and quickly access the information you need.
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.
You can access dissertation and theses databases via the Database A-Z. The recommended databases for global dissertation searching is:
Find out more on the Proquest LibGuide or view the short Basic Search video for a demonstration of searching on the Proquest platform. You have access to many Proquest platform databases at the University.
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.
Zetoc provides a search and alert service via the British Library's electronic table of contents database. To search for conferences, select the Conference Search option and complete the search form.
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.
News sources can be invaluable research resources. There are various types of news sources you can choose from, including:
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. For example, when did global warning first emerge as a 'hot topic' in the press? Who are the major pressure groups and organisations debating this agenda? How has terminology in this area developed and changed over time?, etc.
The availability of news resources online allows for very effective and comprehensive searching, in a way that was impossible with print or microfilm / microfiche editions of the newspapers when research could be a very long, laborious and somewhat haphazard process.
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 and access the news resources via the A-Z Database List.
However, the sheer volume of material available means that sometimes 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.
Social Media blogs, twitter feeds etc. can be useful research resources. For example, they can highlight key topics and debates that are live at particular points in time. Also many experts and organisations use these communication methods to highlight larger research projects and work.
As is the case with website information, it is vital that you evaluate these resources as the quality and reliability of information will be highly variable.
Furthermore, the information may be available fleetingly as blogs and twitter feeds come and go, so make sure you capture any material you want to use in your research in case it is deleted during the course of your research activities.
Ethnographies are first hand descriptive works of a particular group/culture, based on the immersive observations of the researcher.
You can find out more about Ethnographies, including advice on the best way to search online to trace ethnographic materials on the Ethnographies guide.
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