How should I use secondary sources?

Secondary sources are a very good place to start your research so that you can understand the key ideas, techniques, procedures and so on, related to your area of interest. Secondary sources provide good overviews of a subject, so are particularly useful if you need to find about an area that's new to you.

They are also helpful because you can find keywords to describe a subject area, as well as key authors and key references that you can use to do further reading and research. For example a textbook should include a bibliography which will be a list of all the primary and secondary sources the author used when they wrote their book; this bibliography may contain sources that you will also find useful.

Remember that secondary sources generally take a long time to publish and therefore will not cover very new or controversial subjects. That means that if you want to know about the very latest research, a textbook may not be so helpful.

However, there are now many online secondary sources, such as encyclopaedias and handbooks, and the advantage these have is that they can be instantly updated. This makes them much more useful to you particularly if you need up-to-date information.

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SMILE by Imperial College, Loughborough University and the University of Worcester, modified by Marion Kelt Glasgow Caledonian University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.