In the twenty-first century, information that has already been published can now be obtained through a variety of different media. Books, journals and magazines are traditional sources but, increasingly, researchers use digital media to access secondary sources for their research. However, to do this successfully, researchers need:
• the technological resources to access them (e.g. access to the Internet, to a library that subscribes to online journals, etc.)
• the skills and understanding to use the software required to access and use the resources effectively
• to be able to establish the validity of any secondary source accessed via the Internet
• to understand the legal expectations regarding copyright, confidentiality, etc. when using secondary sources.
Information literacy means understanding the limitations of different information sources so that data from them can be used appropriately to maintain validity for the purpose for which the information is being used.
Secondary sources accessed for a research project are likely to reflect the specialist focus of the research. They may contain advanced text that is less fragmented by headings than a Level 3 textbook and they may discuss complex ideas and detailed factual data. Here are some strategies for making the best use of secondary sources:
• ask yourself what the heading tells you
• skim-read to identify the type of text (e.g. research report, critical analysis, review article) and its structure (e.g. headings, referencing, sources)
• scan-read to identify key words and judge the relevance of the text for your purpose
• target more detailed reading on the abstract/summary (if there is one, it may be in a feature box or sub-heading), conclusions (at the end), discussion (towards the end), introduction (start of main text), results and method, in that order
• make notes in your research notebook
• record all details needed for later referencing.
Examples of secondary sources that could be a source of relevant data for a research project include:
• specialist journals that are relevant to health and social care and the research topic
• media (e.g. newspapers, radio, television, Internet news pages)
• government reports
• reports from other reputable bodies (e.g. charities and research foundations).