Sources

Using sources for study and research

In order to show understanding of your subject, you will need to explore different sources of evidence. This will help you to discuss practitioners’ work and your own practice. Remember that all sources should be Harvard referenced.

 

Primary, secondary and tertiary sources

1. Primary source 

A primary source of information comes from first-hand experience or direct evidence of the original person, event or object. It is generally created during or near the timeframe of the subject being discussed.

Examples include:

  • Audio or video recordings
  • Autobiographies
  • Blogs
  • Creative writing
  • Diary entries
  • Emails
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Fieldwork 
    Interviews
  • Legal documents
  • Letters
  • Original artworks
  • Photographs
  • Speeches
  • Statistical data
  • Surveys 

 

2. Secondary source

A secondary source involves another person’s interpretation of the primary source. It is one step removed from the original person, event or object.

Examples include:

  • Articles in scholarly journals that discuss someone else’s original research
  • Biographies
  • Expert commentaries
  • Feature films about historical events
  • Newspaper editorials
  • Non-fiction books e.g. textbooks, edited works
  • Reviews
  • Reviews of artworks and exhibitions

 

3. Tertiary source 

Tertiary sources gather and present information from primary and secondary sources.

Examples include:

  • Abstracts
  • Bibliographies
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopaedias
  • Directories
  • Guidebooks
  • Indexes
  • Manuals

 

Types of sources

Below is a list of sources that are typically used. There is also a guide to their advantages and disadvantages, which will help you to evaluate the reliability of your sources. Find more questions for assessing sources on our effective reading page.

Booksdesign of everday things book cover

  • Books can be either primary (e.g. autobiographies and literature) or secondary (textbooks).
  • Firstly, try our search bar (Discovery).
  • Also look at library catalogues such as the British Library and WorldCat.

Journals 

  • A journal is a collection of articles relating to a particular topic that is published regularly (e.g. once a month, quarterly, annually).
  • In many subjects, new work and scholarship is brought into the public realm using journals.

Academic journals

  • These contain articles that are often commissioned and peer reviewed. This means that before publication they are reviewed by other academics in the subject area to ensure that they are of sufficient quality, do not repeat existing scholarship and represent a contribution to the development of the subject.
  • Examples in NUA Library include: Art History, Journal of Visual Arts Practice and Fashion Theory.

 

Trade journals

  • These are important to your development as an artist or designer.
  • Often centred on a particular discipline, they have information about new developments, the larger industry and job opportunities.
  • The articles are often written for readers who are familiar with the area and use specific subject based terms.
  • Examples in NUA Library would be: Creative Review, Campaign, Cinefex, Computer Arts, Selvedge.

 

Magazines or popular journals

  • Generally their style will be approachable and readable.
  • However, they will not be peer reviewed so you do need to take care when assessing some of the viewpoints.
  • Some articles may be unsupported opinions, and others will be more factual. 
  • Examples of these in NUA Library are: Vogue, i-D, POP, Oh Comely, Tank

Newspapers

  • Newspapers can either be broadsheets (e.g. The Guardian or The Times) or tabloids (e.g. The Sun, The Mirror).
  • Broadsheets tend to be more reliable with higher amounts of text and a focus on politics, current affairs and culture.
  • Tabloid stories tend to be shorter and written to entertain.
Films / television / radio programmesKanopy logo

  • Audio can provide useful quotations from practitioners or characters.
  • Sources can found via BoB, Kanopy or in the Library.
Websites

  • One major issue is that anyone can upload information online.
  • Always consider the authority of the author and the quality of the material.
  • Use official sites such as museum and gallery and company websites.
Statistics

  • Statistics act as quantitative (numbers) rather than qualitative (words) data.
  • These can be found in places such as the Office for National Statistics (data.gov.uk).
  • Additionally, Statista offers over 1.5 million statistics, available immediately in easy to use graphs. Statista includes market data, industry reports, forecasts, opinion polls and infographics.

Guide to the advantages and disadvantages of sources