Types of information

Information can be described in different ways, depending on how it’s produced and the field and context in which it’s used. This page can help you identify different types of information and appropriate sources for your study or research. To learn more about finding specific types of information, browse the articles on our Searching page.

Academic vs non-academic

Academic or non-academic information may also be referred to as scholarly or non-scholarly information.

During your study, you may be asked to cite only academic sources for some assessment tasks, while non-scholarly sources may be permitted for others.

It’s important to recognise the differences between these types of information so you can select appropriate sources for your research or study.

Asking the following questions can help you distinguish academic from non-academic sources.



Who is the author?

An expert in the field, such as an academic or researcher who provides their credentials and affiliations.

Journalists, professional writers and non-subject experts such as the general public.

What is the purpose?

To communicate new research findings and contribute to knowledge in a specific field of study.

To entertain, sell a product, or provide news (or opinion) on particular topics, events or issues.

Who is the audience?

People interested in a particular field of research, such as students, academics, scholars and other researchers.

The general public, or readers who don’t have a background in the topic.

What is the publication process?

Scholarly sources are often peer reviewed, meaning that they have been reviewed by other experts in the field to verify accuracy and quality before publication.

Popular sources may be reviewed by an editor, but usually don’t go through a formal review process.

What does the content include?

Scholarly content is published using a formal structure and specialist terms. It may include an abstract, methodology, results and conclusion, and will always include references citing all sources used.

Language that is easy to read with specialist terms explained, and possibly glossy images or advertisements.

Primary vs secondary

A primary source is an original, first-hand account of an event or topic, which has been recorded by people directly involved. Examples include:

  • Government documents
  • Legislation and case law
  • Research or statistical datasets
  • Original sample collections
  • Original research articles
  • Conference papers
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Patents
  • Photographs
  • Personal papers, diaries, memoirs and autobiographies
  • News reports, and video or audio recordings from actual events
  • Interview transcripts
  • Works of art
  • Novels, poems and plays
  • Performances or speeches 

A secondary source is one in which a second party (not involved with the creation of the original primary sources) provides analysis, interpretation, synthesis or commentary about primary sources. Examples include: 

  • Review articles
  • Textbooks
  • Dictionaries and encyclopedias 
  • Biographies
  • Translations
  • Documentaries

Some primary sources may cite, depict, quote, remix or interpret other primary sources. In these instances, they become both primary and secondary. For example:

  • A conductor and orchestra performing a composer’s music (this is primary as it is an original performance, but also secondary because it is an interpretation of the original sheet music).
  • A hip-hop artist re-using a segment of music from an original recording in a new piece of music (this is primary as it is an original composition, but also secondary because it re-uses a primary source).

Journal literature

In scholarly journals, a further distinction is made between primary and secondary research.

Primary (original) research articles

Primary (original) research articles report research in which the author(s) have:

  • identified a hypothesis, theory or phenomenon they wish to investigate
  • designed and executed the research methods or process themselves
  • analysed the original primary sources or research data
  • published their results or conclusions for the first time.

Secondary (review) articles

Secondary (review) articles are those in which the author(s) evaluate, synthesise or comment on published primary research. There are many different types of review articles suited to different fields and purposes, including:

  • narrative literature reviews
  • scoping reviews
  • systematic reviews
  • meta-analyses
  • integrative reviews
  • rapid reviews.

Some forms of primary research include both primary and secondary information. For example, original research articles, conference papers and theses will often include a literature review and a discussion which provides analysis on their new research findings in the context of previously published research. Citations indicate the sections in a scholarly work that present secondary research or analysis. To learn more, visit our page on the structure of journal articles.