Sources of information
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Sources of information. Where and how do we get our information?. Three ways to gather information. Direct observations Field visits, experiments Interviews, surveys Participatory appraisal, focus groups. Primary information. Documents Materials already written Desk study.

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Sources of information

Sources of information

Where and how do we get our information?

Three ways to gather information

Three ways to gather information

  • Direct observations

    • Field visits, experiments

  • Interviews, surveys

    • Participatory appraisal, focus groups

Primary information

  • Documents

    • Materials already written

    • Desk study

Secondary information

Desk studies


Easy and quick to do

Based on documents already written

Possible to evaluate wide range of evidence

Detached, objective


Do not meet people affected

Depend on what has already been written and published

Lack immediacy, personal impact

Can be boring!

Desk studies

Types of secondary information

Types of secondary information


Phone calls


Commer-cial info



Refereed journals

Policy briefs

Research papers


Online books


Media reports

Conference proceedings

NGO documents

Academic books

Parlia-mentary records






Credibility of sources

Credibility of sources

Reliable, objective, unbiased, accessible

Unreliable, putting one point of view, inaccessible

Refereed journals

Scientific reports


Non-refereed papers

Professionally edited reports

Official statistics

Self-published information

Unedited reports

Lobbying materials

1-person views


Unpublished materials

Which sources to use

Which sources to use?

  • Reliable, credible, objective

  • Do not reflect individual interests

  • Reflect wide range of research, not just a single experiment or case

  • Refereed, published

Finding sources

Finding sources

  • Internet search

    • Don’t just rely on Google

    • Also use specialist search engines

      • Eg, Scirus for scientific info

    • Get a librarian to help

      • Specialist skills, access to large document collections

Finding sources1

Finding sources

  • Library search

  • Private document collections

    • Maybe they have just the document you need

  • Full literature survey?

    • Time-consuming and too much detail?

Finding sources2

Finding sources

  • Phone calls/emails to key individuals

  • Call for information via mailing lists

  • Join a Community of Practice

    • Group of people interested in the same topic, who share information

  • Contract out review to an expert

    • Make sure you get the right person!

Not enough information

Not enough information?

  • Not very likely!

  • Think of other search terms

  • Call some experts

  • Reformulate your question

Too much information

Too much information?

  • Use more specific search terms

  • Tie your search terms together with and or +

  • Use quote marks (“ ”) to search for set phrases

  • Exclude items you don’t want (with - )

  • In Google

    • Search for Paul Mundy finds an Irish musician as well as a communication specialist

    • Search for “Paul Mundy” +communication -music

Too much information1

Too much information?

  • Identify a few key documents

  • Focus on the main points

  • Don’t get bogged down in detail

  • Keep your main questions in mind

Cite your sources

Cite your sources!

  • Use footnotes or references

  • Make it clear who says what

    • “John Farrington of the Overseas Development Institute, a British research group, says…”

  • Provide balance

    • “The industry favours XYZ, while NGOs press for ABC”

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