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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?