Research Writing

Types of documentary research/Characteristics/Structure/Advantages

Many people have the misconception that all research involves administering questionnaires or doing experiments. However, not all information depends solely on the experimental  methodology. By searching for documents it is possible to expand the knowledge about a certain subject, or to expose the state of the question. Types of documentary research

This is where the concept  of documentary research comes in. Although it is very present in the social sciences, it is essential in any branch of science.

What is documentary research?

Documentary or bibliographic research is one in which information is obtained, selected, organized, interpreted, compiled and analyzed on a question that is the object of study from documentary sources . These sources can be of all kinds, such as books, hemerography, audiovisual records, newspaper clippings, among others. It is a technique widely used in social sciences and it is qualitative.

There are researches that are purely documentary, such as a bibliographic search on a historical event, the vision about an aspect in psychology  or the biography  of a famous person. However, most scientific research has a documentary part, especially when writing the theoretical framework and relating the results obtained with its experimentation.


There are several characteristics that define documentary research: let’s see them.

Data collection and use

Data are collected and used with the intention of being able to analyze them, offering logical results from them. Types of documentary research

Follow a logical order

When consulting the bibliography, past events and findings are searched, trying to organize them from more to less ancient , seeing how the issue under study has been defended or refuted, and consulting previously used research instruments.

Own of theoretical or referential research

That is to say, documentary research is one that is carried out to know the information about a question, exposing the theories that try to explain it in addition to making the lines of research known to the world.

This is typical of social sciences, although there are also many works in natural sciences in which this type of research is used , especially when bibliographic searches are presented about the effectiveness of a certain drug or any treatment.

It allows finding gaps and reinterpreting approaches

When investigating what exists with respect to a subject, it is possible to find aspects that have not yet been addressed, that is, gaps in scientific knowledge .

It can also be the case that it is seen that a certain theory or scientific finding was not properly analyzed, re-interpreting it and changing its focus.

Types of documentary research

The types of documentary research that exist are

1. Exploratory

The objective of exploratory documentary research is to test whether one or more hypotheses are valid . In addition, it allows understanding the complexity of a certain issue to be addressed, through its analysis and formulating possible solutions to it. In essence, what is known about the object of study is explored. Types of documentary research

2. Informative

Informative documentary research aims to inform about what is relevant to a specific topic . The object of study is described with all possible details, ordering and selecting all the existing information prior to the writing of the work itself.

Types of information sources

When it comes to talking about the types of information sources, we can classify them based on two criteria . The first refers to the source origin, while the second refers to the type of document itself, that is, its format.

Depending on the origin

Considering the criterion of origin, the types of information sources for documentary research are as follows.

1. Primary

Primary information.

A clear example of a primary source of information is an autobiography, a person’s civil documents, such as their birth certificate, or a recording of a historical event. Types of documentary research

2. Secondary

Secondary research sources are those in which the information has gone through a prior analysis,  judgment, restructuring or criticism process . That is, it is information that may be susceptible to not being entirely reliable or having the point of view of the person who has handled it.

An example of this would be, for example, biographies of a famous person made by someone close, history books from times after the events they describe …

Depending on the format

Depending on the format, the information sources can be classified into these types.

1. Printed documentation

The printed documentation par excellence is the book , however, there are many others that can be used in documentary research, such as newspapers, theses, research projects, statistical publications …

2. Electronic documentation

Given that we live in a world in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are practically essential, they cannot be absent from documentary research. Types of documentary research

Electronic documentation is all the materials that can be found on the Internet , such as books, digital magazines, online scientific articles, blogs, digitized documents …

3. Graphic documentation

Graphic documentation is one that provides visual information, such as photographs, maps, diagrams, tables, infographics …

4. Audiovisual documentation

The audiovisual documentation is video and audio recordings, such as films, documentaries, recorded interviews …

Structure of the documentary research

The structure of the work will depend, basically, on the type of material that has been consulted and the objective of the documentary research. However, the structure usually shares the following elements : Types of documentary research

How is this type of research done?

Related to the previous point, each documentary research implies a different way of proceeding , depending on the matter to be addressed and the access to the available information. However, in most cases we can find the next steps to follow.

First, the material is selected, that is, the documents that will be read to shape the research and written work. It is important to make an extensive and exhaustive collection of all the material that is considered necessary, since it can be useful for the process of drafting and specifying the object of study.

After having obtained all the material, a information they have obtained, ordering them from most to least pertinent, and prioritizing those that are most important to the topic. This is how we start by consulting the bibliography that offers us more information on the matter, avoiding wasting time.

Once the material has been read, it is selected and the textual information is obtained to make citations and references in order to support the theories and interpretations that are going to be exposed in the work . The data analysis is carried out, that is, analyzing the information obtained, preparing the document in which you can reflect your own opinion on the issue addressed or offer an interpretation of the phenomenon addressed. Types of documentary research

Finally, the conclusions arrive, in which the research group closes the topic, specifying the points that have been found, the most relevant interpretations, how the question has been addressed and what was intended to be demonstrated and if such an objective has been achieved.

On the selection of information sources

Before selecting the material, its value should be evaluated. Research experts suggest that the following four items be used to evaluate and determine whether or not a source is acceptable:

1. Authenticity

Authenticity refers to the authorship of the text , being the first step that must be taken in all documentary research. When consulting a text, you should investigate who is its author, if he is an expert in the field, if he has done other studies related to the subject and if it is true that the source we are consulting is his or it is a secondary source . Types of documentary research

2. Credibility

Credibility refers to whether the document is accurate and truthful . This can depend on several aspects, such as the author’s point of view, if he has been impartial or if he has consulted verifiable sources. Although truthful documents are the ones that should form the basis of the research, those that are not true do not have to be completely discarded, since they can serve to debate the information that appears in them.

3. Representativeness

Representativeness refers to whether a selected document is relevant to the objective of our study , and whether it helps us to expand our knowledge regarding the subject studied.

4. Meaning

The meaning of the information sources refers to the content of the consulted documents, in addition to their understanding and the evaluation of the information presented. When determining the meaning of a source of information, it must be determined whether the content of the text is adapted to the historical context in which it was written . Types of documentary research

Advantages of documentary research

Documentary research saves resources, such as time and money, since, unlike quantitative research, not many materials are required. The information to look for is already written, what you have to do is go in your search, read it, analyze it and structure the work in which your own interpretations and points of view will be shown.

In experimental research, on the other hand, it is necessary to select the method of obtaining data, carry out experiments, enable the laboratory or design a questionnaire, in addition to investing in obtaining materials.

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