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Your dissertation: research and writing: Primary sources & original research

Key information for completing your MA dissertation

Some books about research techniques


Left: cropped version of photo by ©janneke staaks on Flickr. Licence for this image
Right: cropped version of photo by ©Anne G on Flickr. Licence for this image


Primary sources

Primary sources are original documents or artefacts, created at or close to the events they describe. Some primary sources can be found using Summon, but for most material you will need to look further:

  • some documents exist only in their original, unpublished form, meaning you will need to visit archives and special library collections to find them.  This is usually time-consuming but is potentially very rewarding, leading you to unearth material rarely or never studied before. See the archives guide for more information;

  • some documents have been published in book form, or perhaps began life in book form - for instance the memoirs of a gallerist. Summon will find these if the SIA library has them. Library Hub Discover will tell you which other libraries have them;

  • increasingly, primary sources have been digitised for online viewing. You can access some from the databases guide and e-books guide.  Others are freely available online.  Further databases of digitised documents, such as historic newspapers and many other sources, are available at other libraries, in particular the British Library

  • some primary sources now begin life as electronic files - they are born digital. Examples would include a blog by an artist and a financial dataset. Searching the open web will usually find this material.  Some datasets are stored in repositories.


Original research

examples of primary research techniques and approaches


Books about research techniques are in the following sections of the library:

  • AB.RES research techniques for business studies
  • AB.STA working with statistics
  • QUI.WRI books on academic writing, some of which include advice about research
  • ART1.AH theory and practice of art history
  • ART1.RES research techniques in visual arts 


You will find many other books and articles with Summon. A recommended article is 'Building Theories from Case Study Research' by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (1989). 


Important: please ensure you follow all interview guidelines included in your MA programme's dissertation handbook, including guidelines for approaching potential interviewees. Contact your programme co-ordinator if in any doubt.

Transcription of interviews is required for some MA programmes; please check you understand the requirements for your programme. See our guidance on referencing interviews and formatting transcriptions in the Chicago stle.

Transcription is time-consuming, and so it is worth considering some of the free software that's available.  SIA has not tested any thoroughly enough to offer a solid recommendation, but it may be worth trying oTranscribe, which speeds things up by placing your recording and your transcription in the same window. oTranscribe saves your transcription as you go along, but you may wish to save copies regularly outside the software as a back-up. It is also possible to upload an audio file to YouTube as a private recording, and generate an automatic transcript.  This is only likely to be worthwhile if the recording quality is very good, and even then the transcript will need much editing.