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Finding and Managing Information for Your Dissertation: 3. Information sources


You can find Information anywhere — books, diaries, social media, blogs, personal experiences, magazine articles, expert opinions, peer-reviwed papers, encyclopedias, and web pages — and the type of information you need will vary depending on the question you are trying to answer for your dissertation or research project.

Your dissertation requires information from a variety of sources; therefore, knowing what type of source you need will help you find the correct source.

Information Sources

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There are three broad categories of sources:

  • primary
  • secondary and
  • tertiary

Take a look through these tabs for definitions and a few examples.

Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. They are firsthand documents that provide direct evidence on your topic.


  • Diaries

  • Speeches

  • Correspondence

  • Interviews

  • Manuscripts

  • Government Documents

  • News film footage

  • Archival Materials

  • Autobiographies 

  • Art works

  • Novels

  • Poetry

  • Music

  • Architectural drawings/plans

  • Photographs

  • Film
Secondary sources are the interpretation, commentary or analysis of other sources. They are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.
  • Bibliographies

  • Biographical works

  • Commentaries, criticisms

  • Conference proceedings

  • Essays or reviews

  • Histories

  • Research articles in academic journals

  • Magazine and newspaper articles

  • Monographs, other than fiction and autobiographies

  • Reprints of art works

Tertiary sources are organisation, categorisation, index or collection of sources. A tertiary source presents summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with references back to the primary and/or secondary sources. 


  • Dictionaries

  • Encyclopedias

  • Handbooks

  • Almanacs

  • Abstracts 

  • Bibliographies

  • Fact books and digests

  • Directories and guidebooks

  • Indexing and abstracting sources

What about grey literature?

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Grey literature is material that is not formally published in the usual established formats.  In addition to identifying published resources you will need a strategy for finding grey literature. 

Examples of grey literature would include:

  • conference papers/conference proceedings
  • dissertations / theses
  • working papers 
  • clinical trials
  • research group reports 
  • government documents
  • newsletters, fact sheets, bulletins, pamphlets
  • reports
  • surveys
  • organisation's websites 
  • pre-print material

Where can I find these sources?

Take a look at the tab Where to Search for more information on finding these different types of sources.