When you’re working on an assignment, you may need to consult different types of information.
Watch Types of information (YouTube, 2m46s) for an introduction to scholarly, professional, popular, and social information.
There are different sources of information, such as books, journal articles, websites, videos and many more. Sometimes you might see sources referred to as primary or secondary.
A primary source is a piece of information which is in some way original. Eyewitness accounts, creative works and data gathered from an experiment could all be examples of primary sources. They are also sometimes called original sources.
A secondary source is a piece of information that interprets one or more primary sources. Books and documentaries are both examples of secondary sources.
What counts as a primary or secondary source might vary depending on your field of study. If in doubt, you can always ask the Librarian Team.
Lecture notes and textbooks
Unless instructed otherwise by your course coordinator, it is important to extend your research beyond your lecture notes and required textbooks. Lectures provide an overview of the topic and are designed to prompt you to research the topic further. Search for relevant books, journal articles and other resources to show you understand the topic in depth. Use the relevant literature you find as sources in your assignments, rather than your lecture notes.
Books are historically one of the most continually used sources of information. The oldest surviving complete book in the world is the Diamond Sutra, printed over one thousand years ago.
There are many different types of books. During your studies, you might be asked to use:
- Textbooks – these are books that cover a broad subject area. Your lecturers may suggest that you buy a copy of any textbooks you need for your course because you are likely to need to refer to them regularly.
- Monographs – these are books about a specific subject. They usually go into more depth than textbooks.
- Reference books – these are books like dictionaries or encyclopedias which you might refer to for a definition or explanation of a concept. You probably wouldn’t read them cover to cover.
- eBooks – these are books which are available online. eBooks can be textbooks, monographs, or reference books. You can read them in your browser or sometimes download files to read on an iPad or kindle.
A journal contains articles and is published regularly. Journals also may be referred to as periodicals or serials. They cover particular disciplines or subject areas and contain articles, reviews and editorial content. The Library has information on finding journal articles.
There are many different types of journals, from peer-reviewed scholarly journals such as Nature, to current affairs journals such as The Economist, to popular journals such as Rolling Stone.
There are many advantages to using journal articles for your research. Information found in journals is current, digestible and topic specific. At the same time, journal articles are not suitable for all occasions because they generally do not provide an introduction to a subject area or a broad overview of a particular topic.
Watch Peer review in 3 Minutes (YouTube, 3m15s) for an explanation of the peer review process.
Not all scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. You can check on Ulrichsweb if a journal is peer reviewed (refereed). This is an international directory that provides information about popular and academic journals. You can also sometimes tell from the journal website whether it is peer reviewed. Many search tools, including Library Search, will let you restrict your search to peer-reviewed articles.
Peer reviewed journal articles explains how to check if an article is peer reviewed and how to find peer reviewed articles.
If you’re working on an assignment related to current affairs or historic events, you may need to consult news reports when researching.
News and newspapers are a type of primary source. Because they are a reflection of the information available at the time of an event, they may be incomplete, and may also include the subjective biases or opinions of a reporter or news organisation. This means that you need to read news reports critically and acknowledge any biases.
News and newspapers has links to help you find current, recent, past, and historical news.
Sometimes assignments will require you to find information from less traditional scholarly sources like websites. For example, an assignment requiring you to write a case study on a company may lead to you looking up information on their official website, or you may need to use a government website to find information about a particular policy relating to your field of study.
It’s easy for anyone to create a website, so it can be difficult to judge what information is reliable. One way to check a websites’ credibility is to look at the URL. Australian government websites are a good example as most have URLs that end in .gov.au, signposting that they will contain official information.
The Evaluating information section of this module has tips on how to determine the quality of information.
Many assignments will require you to use unique information specific to your subject area. For example, if you’re studying medicine, you will be required to use evidence-based practice, or if your assignment is in engineering, you may need to find standards. The library has guides on how to search for specific information formats.
Here are a few of our most popular:
Discover health information has health and medical resources for study, research or clinical practice.
Legal Research Essentials helps law students learn about the information sources that they will be required to use throughout their degree and career.