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Research Help: Understanding Information

Types of Information

You may be asked to use a number of different kinds of information including Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary. 

Primary Information consists of original materials--a first-hand account of something (diaries, works of literature, interviews, etc.) This information has not been filtered through interpretation.

Secondary Information is writen after something has happened and has the benefit of hindsight (books, biographies, journal articles). This information includes interpretations and evaluations of primary information.

Tertiary Information is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary information (almanacs, fact books, encyclopedias).

Need to know the difference between a primary and secondary source? Here are guides from University of California Berkeley, Princeton, Duke, and Purdue that will help you distinguish between the two and find the sources you need.

Check out this clip from the UCSD Social Sciences & Humanities Library for more information:

What is Information?

Information is defined as:

"1. knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance; 2. knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc." ("information." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 15 Dec. 2010. <>.)

Information includes both facts and opinions. We are constantly bombared by information through television, the Internet, newspapers, billboards, conversations, etc. What is important is how we use information and how it becomes meaningful to us. Check out this video by MAYA designs for more on this topic:

Taking Good Class Notes

Check out this lecture by Dartmout College on how to take good class notes:

Where Can You Find Information?

You can find information from almost anywhere, but the sources you use depend on what type of information you are trying to find. Check out the Finding Information page to learn more.

Types of Sources

You will probably want to use articles from scholarly, substantive, and popular publications to help you gain a complete understanding of your topic. 

Scholarly sources are produced by scholars or experts whose credentials can be evaluated. This type of source is usually aimed at other scholars or experts in the field and it provides specialized and discipline specific information, often reporting on original research and experimentation. 

Substantive sources are produced by scholars or credentialed journalists and are geared toward an educated audience. They provide credible information of relevance to an educated and concerned public. 

Popular sources are created by journalists, staff writers, or freelance writers. This type of information is aimed at the general public. It usually provides a broad overview of topics a general readership will find entertaining. 

Check out this Web chart from Virginia Commonwealth University to see examples of these three types of publications.