Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Information Sources: Choosing and Finding the Right Source

Decisions, decisions...

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
      • Example:
        • Encyclopedia Brittanica
        • ​Columbia Encyclopedia
    • Subject - Focuses on one field or topic such as Religion.  Best bet for college-level background research.
      • Example
        • 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.


  • Time
  • National Geographic
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Psychology Today
  • Consumer Reports
  • Prevention
  • Atlantic


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
  • Nature
  • 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?