Documentary Research: Characteristics, Structure, Stages, Types, Examples

The documentary research is a method of study and interpretation based on the review of books, articles, videos and documentaries. It can also be defined as a process of collecting, organizing and analyzing a series of data that deals with a particular topic.

For example, you can conduct desk research on invertebrate animals ; For this, it is necessary to collect information about this type of fauna in books, documentaries or on the Internet.

Documentary research is an essential component within schools and universities, since it allows developing new knowledge and obtaining explanations about facts of reality.

This process is not only used by teachers; it is also used by students and all kinds of researchers. The documentary search can be used to carry out any kind of document: from the elaboration of a biography of a historical person to a scientific essay.

Nowadays – thanks to digital platforms – it is possible to carry out documentary research with greater ease. Before, it was strictly necessary to visit libraries or other institutions; information can now be obtained from anywhere in the world through the Internet.

Characteristics of documentary research

It is developed from texts and documents found

Documentary research is characterized by developing from certain texts or documents that are associated with the subject to be analyzed.

Currently, documentary research not only uses books; It can be done through films, slides, audios or documentaries that provide data on the topic to be investigated.

Collect, select and analyze the data found

Documentary research is also characterized by collecting, selecting and interpreting the data found. From this data, a presentation and a conclusion are made.

In other words, this type of research is not only dedicated to finding important data; you must also interpret and select the information found. This allows establishing a series of conclusions that add value to the research process.

Allows the formulation of new questions and brings other perspectives

Through the data found, the researcher can ask himself new questions and establish other forms of research. For this reason, documentary investigations are constantly changing and can always bring new perspectives.

It is done in an orderly manner and setting precise goals

To be successful, desk investigations must be conducted in an orderly manner. In addition, they have to establish a series of clear and precise objectives, which will be met as the data is collected.

For example, if you want to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of using social networks, an objective of the research may be to locate testimonies (that is, evidence) written by people who have been favored or harmed by the use of some particular social network.


The documentary investigations follow the following structure:

1. Statement of the problem

In this first section, the main objective of the project should be stated and defined. This means that the topic to be investigated is specified along with the purpose of the investigation.

For example: The objective of this research is to analyze the behavior of certain birds during mating, and then to compare the different forms of communication of these animals. For this, bibliographic sources (that is, books) will be consulted along with other materials such as videos on wildlife.

2. Delimitation of secondary objectives

After raising the main objective of the investigation, the secondary objectives are placed. These are intended to structure and organize the project; In addition, they serve as a guide to the researcher when starting the data search.

For example:

Objective 1: Analyze the information compiled by Ernesto Plaza in his book Food and reproduction of parrots (1990).

Objective 2: Compare the information established by Ernesto Plaza with the documentary Birds Wonderful (2010) by Natgeo.

3. Interpretation of the information found

In this section the premises found during data collection are evaluated. Generally, the author and the source from which the information was extracted are placed. Likewise, in this part the researcher interprets and analyzes all the information he found.

For example: From the text Food and reproduction of parrots (1990) it was possible to establish that parrots are very selective with their partners; they even require some chemistry. In addition, they can produce a series of very unique sounds or they can perform courtship discreetly.

4. Conclusions

Finally, in a documentary investigation, a conclusion must be placed where – as a summary – the most important data found are exposed, along with some descriptions about how the investigative process was. The researcher can also state whether the objectives and purpose of the project were met.

For example: through this research, it was possible to conclude that there is a group of birds with a monogamous tendency (that is, of a single pair). This occurs in penguins, lovebirds, and macaws.


Desk investigations usually follow the following stages:

1- Establish the topic on which you want to investigate. Example: Consequences of smoking.

2- Delimit the main objective together with the secondary objectives. Example: analyze and list the consequences of smoking. For this, the text The consequences of smoking (2019) and other audiovisual materials will be reviewed .

3- Start the investigation together with the data collection. During this stage, the researcher must take notes and prepare summaries of all the documents that he found.

4- Analyze and interpret the data that were found and selected.

5- Establish the conclusions of the investigation, determining if the objectives were met and if valuable information was obtained.

Types of documentary research

Documentary investigations can be classified into:

Bibliographic research

Bibliographic investigations are those that use bibliographic documents. These refer to all material that is composed of books and printed texts. Currently, books and digital articles are also considered as bibliographic sources.

Hemerographic investigations

Newspaper investigations use those materials that encompass any text of a periodic nature. For example: printed magazines, weekly newspapers, digital newspapers, digital magazines, among others.

Audiovisual investigations

These investigations use those videos, songs or photographs that serve to enrich the work. In other words, they refer to all materials that are not written; They can be visual (images), sound (recordings) or a mixture of both (videos).

They can be found in analog form on VHS tapes, vinyl records, photography on paper or digital, going to mp4 format for videos, mp3 for audios or jpeg for images. In turn, they can be found privately and privately or publicly on different platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Wikimedia Commons, Netflix or Spotify.

Archival investigations

Archival investigations use those materials that are located in a filing cabinet; that is, in a piece of furniture where documents and files are kept in an orderly manner.

For example, companies often put employee data and administrative information in filing cabinets. These data are cataloged as archival documents.

Examples of documentary research

Depending on the researcher, desk investigations can be complex and schematic processes or a fairly straightforward activity.

For example, an elementary school student can do a little desk research from home. If the teacher sends him to do a task on natural sciences, the student will look for references in some books or on the Internet; This can be considered as a desk investigation.

However, there are more complex documentary investigations. This is the case in the case of scientists, who must follow a much more rigorous methodology. These researchers must be very clear about their objectives and use academic sources.

The last dance

The Last Dance is a documentary aired on Netflix about Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls before his first retirement as a basketball player. That year, in 1998, the Bulls made history by winning the sixth ring.

To prepare a project like this, a significant part was devoted to documentary research. For this, interviews were carried out with ex-colleagues and specialized journalists, references were sought from the media of the time and videos were obtained from the image bank of the company that owned the rights. 

All this to obtain the most reliable information possible and to explain the historical moment that North American sports lived at the end of the 20th century. With everything collected, the purpose of the scriptwriters is to synthesize the content to offer an attractive product to the end user.

Simple examples of desk investigations

– When a student is unfamiliar with a concept, he can look up the meaning in a book or on the Internet and take notes; this is classified as documentary research.

– If a gardener wants to know what plants are for medicinal uses, he will research a book about plants and watch videos explaining how to use them. The gardener can take notes and draw his own conclusions. This is also a desk investigation.

– Scientists use desk research the most, especially if they want to conduct experiments in a laboratory. For example, this type of research allows them to know if a current disease had previously appeared in the history of mankind.

– Documentary investigations are the most used process in the development of university theses. They are also used to produce monographs (that is, detailed studies on a particular subject ).

– A documentary investigation is carried out when it is desired to obtain information about family ancestors. For example, if a person wants to know if they have Arab ancestry, they can use this type of research to learn the history of their family and develop a family tree.

– Historians also frequently use this method of study and research. In fact, history is a discipline that requires constant research to get new contributions.

For example, if a historian wants to know in depth the life and work of Simón Bolívar or Napoleón Bonaparte, he will have to resort to bibliographic and newspaper sources. This will allow you to rebuild the lives of these characters.

– In general, whenever a study is carried out, the processes of a documentary investigation are used. Therefore, this method is used by almost everyone from an early age and can be used in the course of any career or profession.

Themes of interest

Basic research .

Field research .

Applied research .

Pure research .

Explanatory research .

Descriptive research .

Observational study .


  1. Jurado, Y. (sf) Documentary research techniques. Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from
  2. Máxima, J. (2020) Documentary research. Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from Features:
  3. Morales, O. (sf) Fundamentals of documentary research and monograph. Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from
  4. SA (nd) What is documentary research? Definition and objectives. Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from Scientific Research:
  5. SA (sf) An introduction to documentary research. Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from AERA:
  6. SA (sf) Documentary research method: new dimensions. Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from
  7. SA (sf) Research . Retrieved on February 19, 2020 from Wikipedia:

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *