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Use this guide to help you make a decision about which information source is best. If you are deciding on a topic or need background information on a topic, start with an encyclopedia. If you want in-depth coverage of a topic, look for a book. If you are looking for current thinking about a topic, try a magazine or newspaper.
If you are ready to do intense research on a narrow or specific subject, select peer-reviewed articles from academic journals in the databases.
Collections of brief, factual articles on various topics. Great starting point for research to gather background information about your topic.
- Usually organized alphabetically by topic.
- Writers are experts in their field, but this is NOT scholarly information.
- Two types of encyclopedias:
- General - Covers all topics
- Encyclopedia Brittanica
- Columbia Encyclopedia
- Subject - Focuses on one field or topic such as Religion. Best bet for college-level background research.
- Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
- Encyclopedia of Bioethics
- A collection of fairly short articles reporting on news, trends, events.
- Written by journalists and staff writers.
- NOT scholarly. "Popular" press.
- Very current. Usually published daily; sometimes weekly.
- Audience: the average adult; available at stores and newstands.
- The Boston Globe
- The New York Times
- The Chronicle of Higher Education
- A collection of easy-to-read articles
- Often has images and advertising
- Articles written by journalists or staff writers.
- NOT scholarly. Sometimes they are called "popular."
- Usually very current information. Magazines often publish on a monthly or weekly basis.
- Audience: the average adult reader; available at bookstores and newstands.
- National Geographic
- Sports Illustrated
- Psychology Today
- Consumer Reports
Trade Magazines or Journals
- A collection of articles on news, trends, and developments within a specific industry.
- NOT scholarly.
- Audience is workers within a specific profession.
- Advertising is specific to the industry.
- Most industries have trade journals. Some are published by trade associations.
- Most are not available at newstands.
- A collection of serious articles typically longer in length (10+ pages).
- Little or no images or advertising.
- Focused on a specific discipline such as medicine or art.
- Written by researchers and experts in the discipline. They are called scholars.
- Audience: other scholars or researchers in the same field. Usually found in libraries. Hardly ever available at a bookstore or newstand.
- Based on other research so a lengthy list of references is included.
- also called peer-reviewed, academic, or refereed journals
- The New England Journal of Medicine
- The Academy of Management Review
- A nonfiction book either provides general information, a broad overview of a topic, or a deep analysis of a subject.
- There are books on every topic.
- Online (ebooks) or in print.
- Students should look for books that bring together all the information on one topic to support a claim or thesis.
- Books can be scholarly or popular.
- How to identify scholarly books? Evaluate the author and the publisher.
- Does the author hold a doctorate or teach at a university?
- Has the author written other important books on the subject?
- Did the author receive fellowships or grants to support the writing of the book?
- Is the book published by a university press such as Johns Hopkins University Press?