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Types of Sources

Overview

Information can come from virtually anywhere — media, blogs, personal experiences, books, journal and magazine articles, expert opinions, encyclopedias, web pages, and more — and the type of source(s) you need for your assignments will change depending on the question you are trying to answer.

The Consortium Library provides free access to these types of sources for the UAA and APU communities and to in-person library visitors:

Scholarly Journals
Magazines
Trade Publications
Dissertations
Newspapers
Databases
QuickSearch
Books
Library Catalog
Encyclopedias
Websites & Search Engines

For other specialized sources, follow links to related guides on the left.

Scholarly Journals

Scholarly (or academic) journals contain articles written by researchers who are experts in their field. Authors are usually employed by colleges, universities, or other institutions of education or research. Articles are submitted to the editors of the journals who decide whether or not to publish. The most prestigious journals use the peer review process. In this process, an article is reviewed by experts in the field (peers) who suggest changes and recommend whether the article should be published.

For help identifying different kinds of magazines and journals, see the Scholarly vs. Popular guide.

Uses:

  • for scholarly research.
  • to explore research that has been done on your topic.
  • to find citations and references that point to other relevant articles.

Examples:

  • Contemporary Accounting Research
  • Journal of Morphology
  • Psychological Review

Image of the cover of Journal of Morphology depicting a shark swimming amongst fish.

Magazines

Magazines contain articles written by people who are usually employed by the publication for which they write. They cover news and current events, profiles of people or places, and/or political opinions.

For help identifying different kinds of magazines and journals, see the Scholarly vs. Popular guide.

Uses:

  • to find information or opinions about popular culture.
  • to find up-to-date information about current events.
  • to find general articles intended for people who are not experts on a topic.

Examples:

  • National Geographic
  • Psychology Today
  • Rolling Stone

National Geographic magazine cover with image of a young plant and headline "Where Food Begins."

Trade Publications

Trade and professional publications contain articles written by people working in a specific discipline, industry, or field of work. Articles focus on news in the field, brief reports on research, and opinions about trends and events.

For help identifying different kinds of magazines and journals, see the Scholarly vs. Popular guide.

Uses:

  • to learn more about your topic as it relates to a discipline, industry, or field of work.
  • for explanation and interpretation of relevant research.
  • to find out what's happening in a discipline, industry, or field of work.
  • to identify relevant professional associations.

Examples:

  • Advertising Age
  • Professional Pilot
  • Public Manager

Image of the cover of Professional Pilot magazine depicting 5 people standing in front of an airplane.

Dissertations & Theses

Dissertations and theses are lengthy works completed in pursuit of a university degree or professional qualification that present an author’s original research or creative work. A dissertation is typically part of doctoral or PhD studies, while a thesis is generally part of a master's degree. 

Dissertations and theses are scholarly sources because they are supervised by a committee of scholars or a faculty supervisor. However, they are not peer reviewed in the same way as a peer-reviewed journal. If you are required to use peer-reviewed sources, ask your instructor if you can use a dissertation or thesis.

Uses:

  • to find citations and references that point to other relevant articles.
  • to read a comprehensive literature review on a topic.
  • to explore research on a topic, sometimes the only thing written about a narrow topic.
  • for scholarly research.

Example:

Image of the first page of Stephen Hawking's doctoral thesis.

Newspapers

Newspapers contain articles on current events usually written by journalists who are employed by that newspaper. They are often published daily or weekly, and many have a corresponding website. They can be international, national, local, or a combination of all three. Some are very general while others focus on specific topics.

For help finding newspapers, see the News Sources guide. Also see our Fake and Misleading News guide.

Uses:

  • to find current international, national, and local information.
  • to find editorials, commentaries, expert, or popular opinions.
  • to see what was written at the time of an event in history.

Examples:

  • Alaska Dispatch News
  • New York Times
  • Wall Street Journal

A stack of newspapers.

Databases

A database is a collection of information organized to provide efficient search and retrieval. Library databases contain information about articles in magazines, journals, newspapers, and other types of media. Some databases only contain abstracts or brief summaries of articles, while others include complete, full-text articles. Databases can be general or subject-specific, but no single database has everything.

Use:

  • to find articles on your topic in magazines, journals, newspapers, or other types of media.
  • when you want to focus your search within a specific discipline.
  • when you're not finding what you need in QuickSearch.

Examples:

  • Academic Search Premier (general)
  • GeoScienceWorld (subject specific - earth science)
  • Business Source Premier (subject specific - business)

Screen shot of Academic search premier search screen.

QuickSearch

QuickSearch allows you to search most of the Consortium Library's online and print resources using a single search box. Think of it as Google for library research. It does not include the content of some of the library’s specialized databases but does include the library catalog, our ebook collections, and about 80% of the library's journal articles. Because it searches so many items along with the full text when available, QuickSearch is a great place to start.

For more information and a tutorial, see the QuickSearch guide.

Uses:

  • when you just need a couple of articles and you need them now.
  • to explore topic ideas or keywords.
  • when you aren't quite sure what subject your topic falls under, or if it falls under multiple subjects.
  • when researching something obscure if you can't find information elsewhere.

A screenshot of the QuickSearch search results screen.

Books

Books cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction. For research purposes, you will probably be looking for books that synthesize much of the information on one topic to support a particular argument or thesis. For this reason, subjects covered in books are usually broader than in journal articles.

A book may be a physical object (print) or an ebook. For more about ebooks, see the eBooks @ the Consortium Library guide.

Uses:

  • when looking for a wider view on a topic than is generally found in journal articles.
  • to put your topic in context with other important issues.
  • to find historical and background information.
  • to find summaries of research to support an argument.

Examples:

  • Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction (2017)
  • How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of the Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind (2012)
  • Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School (2017)

Image of books on library shelves.

Library Catalog

A library catalog allows you to search for books, videos, music, some ebooks, and other materials (excluding journal articles) available locally. Because the Consortium Library shares a catalog with numerous other libraries in Alaska, most items found elsewhere can be requested and sent to your local library free of charge.

For step-by-step instructions, see the Using the Library Catalog guide.

Uses:

  • to find locally available materials on your topic.
  • to find where a specific item is located in the library.
  • when you know you want a print book.

Screenshot of the Consortium Library Catalog page.

Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias are collections of short, factual entries often written by different contributors who are experts on the topic. 

There are two types of encyclopedias: general and subject. General encyclopedias provide concise overviews on a wide variety of topics. Subject encyclopedias contain in-depth entries focusing on one field of study.

Wikipedia, an online crowd-sourced encyclopedia, can be helpful for a basic overview or to consult the references at the end of each page but is typically not an acceptable source for academic research.

Uses:

  • when looking for background information or a brief overview on a topic.
  • when trying to find key concepts or important dates.
  • help put your topic into context.

Examples:

  • World Book (general)
  • Encyclopedia Americana (general)
  • Encyclopedia of African-American History (subject)
  • McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology (subject)

Cover image for Encyclopedia of African American history, 1896 to the present : from the age of segregation to the twenty-first century

Websites & Search Engines

Search engines (like Google or Bing) allow you to search a vast sea of information contained on websites. They can be a great place to start your academic research but are rarely enough on their own. Since anyone can create a website, the quality and reliability of information varies drastically. No matter what type of source you use whether online or off, be sure to evaluate before using it. Also see our Fake and Misleading News guide.

Much of what the library has cannot be found through Google or other search engines. When found, there is often a fee to view the full text. However, the library pays for access to carefully selected materials and makes them freely available to the UAA/APU communities and in-person visitors.

Note that if your instructor says not to use websites or the internet in your research, it is still ok to use online library resources.

Uses:

  • to find current information.
  • to verify quick facts.
  • to find information from all levels of government - federal to local.
  • to find both expert and popular opinions.
  • to find information about companies.
  • to find information about hobbies and personal interests.

Examples:

Screenshot of the National Archives website.

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Guide Owner

This guide is maintained by Ruth Terry.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License

This work by the Consortium Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License and is based on Virginia Tech University Libraries' Types of Information Sources (CC-BY-NC-SA) with some information taken from University of Lethbridge Library's Theses & Dissertations and Mount Royal University Library's Dissertations & Theses. Note that linked content is covered by its own licenses.

We encourage you to license your derivative works under Creative Commons as well to encourage sharing and reuse of educational materials.