Sources of Information

Different types of research questions and projects require different types of information sources.  For example, if your research question asks what the climate of popular opinion is regarding a current event, newspaper articles and web sites may be your best sources of information.  On the other hand, if you need scholarly information on the history of a social movement, you may want to find articles published in scholarly journals, books or dissertations.

You may find this side-by-side comparison of books versus journals especially useful.

Below are descriptions of various types of information sources that you might use in your research:

  • Articles, online and in print – Scholars publish their latest findings in articles, which are published in periodicals (a.k.a. journals.) Articles cover topics that are important, but not broad enough to fill a whole book.
  • Newspaper articles, editorials – Journalists (who are usually not subject experts) write articles based on interviews and press releases. Investigative reports, as their name suggests, may also involve some research. Editorials are based on opinions.
  • Books, e-books – Also called monographs. Scholars write monographs after they’ve done many years of study on a topic and have a lot to say about it. The information isn’t as recent as the information in articles, but it’s usually much more in-depth.
  • Dissertations, theses – Graduate students write these at the conclusion of their graduate studies. A dissertation or thesis has to be original research, so it is very cutting edge when it comes out. Also, because the topics are obscure, a dissertation or thesis may be the only source that actually talks about that topic in that way.
  • Conference proceedings – Scholars get together and present their latest research to one another. It’s less formal than a published article, and it’s not peer reviewed, but the information may be newer and may not yet be available in articles or books.
  • Web sites – Government agencies, organizations and companies make reports, white papers, articles and data available on the web. Libraries, archives and museums digitize primary sources – documents, scanned images, audio and video recordings and photographs of artifacts.
  • Microform – Many libraries have microfilm or microfiche archives of primary sources such as old newspapers and census records.
  • Images – Available in online archives and databases like ArtSTOR. Images may also be photocopied out of art books and print journals, or printed from microfilm machines.
  • Video – Documentaries and other kinds of films may be used as primary sources for your research and are available in a variety of formats, such as reel-to-reel, VHS, DVD, streaming online video and online video recordings.
  • Audio – Audiobooks, music and spoken art forms may be used as primary sources and are available in a variety of formats, such as records, tapes, CDs, streaming online audio and online audio recordings.

a brief course in information literacy