7 junio, 2024

Consultation sources: what they are for, types and examples

The reference sources They are resources that provide information or knowledge on a specific topic. This information may be required by a person or an institution and can be obtained directly (as occurs, for example, through the Internet) or with the help of an expert professional in the area to be investigated.

Likewise, the sources of consultation are the object of study in various disciplines such as library science and research methodology. In both cases, the sources constitute the vehicle to access the necessary information and general knowledge.

For these reasons, the sources of consultation are decisive to document an investigation reliably. However, during the consultation process it is necessary to carry out several searches and know how to select -depending on the topic to be documented- which source is most useful.


Origin and evolution of consultation sources

The sources of consultation arose from the need of man to record ideologies, concepts and events.

Among these early attempts, the Library of Alexandria is perhaps the most popular example from antiquity. It was built by Ptolemy I Soter (362-283 BC) and was divided into two rooms, the first (main) contained approximately 490,000 works, while the second (subsidiary) was made up of 42,800 manuscripts.

In the evolution of human knowledge, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1452 was decisive. In this way, when a great variety of works were published in print, the activities and knowledge of humanity changed significantly.

The vast majority of these documents and works -the product of research carried out by specialists in different areas of knowledge- were stored in city libraries and university campuses, where they were consulted by students or those interested in different topics.


Today, thanks to the arrival and proliferation of technological resources, there are digital libraries, which has considerably changed the way of consulting. Because of this, electronic publications and sources have become a primary exercise in the research process.

What are the reference sources used for?

The reference sources can be used by researchers, information professionals and the general public. Likewise, they serve to satisfy all kinds of academic or pedagogical demands and are essential as work tools and in educational processes.

However, they are especially useful for the researcher, since they allow him to know the theoretical bases of his work, as well as the background or events that happened in the past and those that continue in force in the present. All of this information helps you formulate your research hypothesis and explain your findings.

It should be noted that, for an investigation to be successful, some aspects must be taken into account regarding the sources of consultation, such as: where to consult them, if they are accessible, advantages, disadvantages and if one is trained to handle them.

Types of reference sources and examples

There are many types of reference sources, so they have been classified in different ways. Below are some of them:

Classification according to the originality of the information

Depending on their originality, sources have been divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary reference sources

They are those that contain unique or original information, that is, it is information that has not been interpreted, condensed or evaluated. Generally, they are created by a person, group or institution that is directly related to the topic.

These sources are mainly used in research processes, however, one of the disadvantages is that they can be affected by subjective and critical evaluations by those who consult them.

For example: diaries, letters, autobiographies, art objects, research articles written by those who carried it out, conference proceedings, doctoral theses, interviews, press articles written by a journalist who witnessed the event, etc.

Secondary reference sources

Secondary sources are made up of compilations or summaries made from the information provided by primary or original sources. That is, they arise when the primary source undergoes a process of modification, selection, or reorganization for a specific purpose.

These sources initially facilitate access to primary sources. In the same way, when interpreting and reorganizing concepts, they are widely used by researchers to corroborate information.

For example: biographies, histories, monographs, review articles, textbooks, and any indexes or bibliographies used to locate primary sources.

Tertiary reference sources

These sources are the product of a compilation of primary data and secondary sources. They are not very worked and have the risk of being outdated. For example: some books and almanacs, manuals and database or reference guides.

– Classification according to its use in research

In this type of classification, the most important sources are:

Articles, published online and in print

These articles are published periodically by researchers and academics; they document the results and findings of their investigations. The articles cover important topics and have the characteristic of not being extensive (that is, they are developed in a few pages).

These articles, for the most part, are previously evaluated by a group of experts in the area of ​​the subject to be published. This prior evaluation gives reliability to the work.

Newspaper articles and editorials

Newspaper articles are written by a press worker (who must be a specialist in the area) and are based on direct interviews and research.

On the other hand, editorials are reference sources that provide subjective opinions of a newspaper or magazine, on a specific current and relevant topic.

Books, published online and in print

The books that serve as a reference source are usually written by specialists in a particular subject. In these issues, the information is not as recent as that published in an article, but it is generally much more extensive.


These sources of consultation are made and structured by government agencies, organizations and companies. They are very varied and include books, articles, brief facts, etc.

In the same way, libraries, archives and museums digitize information of interest such as documents, images, audios, videos and place them on their websites.

– Classification according to its physical nature

Based on their physical nature, reference sources have been divided into two categories: documentary and non-documentary.

Documentary sources

These are the sources of inquiries recorded on paper or other material that can be physically handled, transported, and preserved over time. These include manuscripts, recorded materials, printed books, periodicals, photographs, records on compact discs or USB (Universal Serial Bus) sticks, etc.

non-documentary sources

Non-documentary sources of consultation are very important in the process of communication and obtaining information. This group is made up of universities, government departments, technological institutions, data and reference centers, seminars and conferences.


Gallego, J., Juncá M (sf). Information sources and services. Retrieved on January 28, 2020 from: uoc.edu
Cabrera, (2006). Introduction to information sources. Retrieved on January 28, 2020 from: researchgate.net
Ahiauz, B. (1998). Reference sources and services. Retrieved on January 29 from: researchgate.net
Ayuso, M. (1999). Interdisciplinary review of bibliography and sources of information on the threshold of the 21st century. New perspectives: information resources. Retrieved on January 30, 2020 from: dialnet.unirioja.es
Igwenagu, Ch. (2016). Fundamentals of research methodology and data collection. Retrieved on January 30, 2020 from: researchgate.net
Villasenor, I. (2008). Methodology for the elaboration of information source guides. Retrieved on January 30, 2020 from: scielo.org.mx

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