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Syllabus Focus: Unit 1 Module 1 Content 8

Specific Objective 8: discuss various types of information sources;

Content: Types of information sources: including books, journals, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, online
libraries, CD-ROMs, DVDs, electronic databases, web sites, people, blogs, wikis; advantages,
disadvantages of information sources.

Types of information sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

There are two kinds of sources for information, primary and secondary. Primary sources are
firsthand, "direct from the source" information. Secondary sources are analyses of primary
sources. If you write an autobiography, that's a primary source for your life. If someone reviews
or writes a criticism of that autobiography, then that's a secondary source for your life. Or if
someone writes a biography of you, that would also be a secondary source.

For literature, the works by an author are primary, and the criticism of the works are secondary.
For historical issues, letters, diaries, and contemporary accounts are primary sources, while
anything written after the event is a secondary source.

For the sciences, the output from the original research on the issue (an article on a survey
conducted or the study done) is the primary source, while any analysis or summaries of research
done by others is a secondary source.

Books vs. Periodicals

Written information can also be divided into two other forms, books and periodicals. Books
themselves come in different types. Monographic books, a.k.a. monographs are "written once,"
or are books that stand on their own, rather than being part of a series. But not all books follow
the monographic format. Some are actually a collection of essays or articles, written by different
authors. And while the articles are related somehow, the issues within the articles can be much
more focused on a smaller aspect of the issue.
And occasionally you will find books that just cite sources of information on an issue, called
bibliographies. Bibliographies are either comprehensive for a particular issue (within a particular
date range), or attempt to be selective, just citing the "best" sources of information (again, within
a date range), but most bibliographies in book format are comprehensive.
Periodicals are any written information that comes out periodically. (Hence the name.)
Newspapers, magazines, and journals are all periodicals. The articles within periodicals tend to
be more specific or about certain aspects of an issue, versus monographs. Periodicals take many
 Newspapers usually offer articles that are factual accounts of events, but they can be an
analysis of trends or issues as well. Newspaper articles usually aren't written by experts in
the field and don't offer suggested readings or sources of where they got their
information. Newspaper articles are great for current events and primary source material.

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 Popular magazines are the least scholarly and are mainly for entertainment. Articles tend
to offer general tips or advice, or interviews with celebrities.
Examples: Good Housekeeping, GQ, People, Road & Track, Vogue, etc.
 Trade magazines are those published by associations and/or aimed at practitioners in a
particular field, offering mainly practical, how-to articles, or news useful to the field. If
the magazine looks like it might be scholarly, but the articles within are clearly not, then
it's probably a trade magazine.
Examples: Advertising Age, Computerworld, Progressive Farmer, etc.
 News magazines are more similar to newspapers, in that they offer factual, current events
news and analysis.
 Examples: Economist, Maclean's, Newsweek, Time, etc.
 Opinion magazines only offer analysis of issues and trends, sometimes with a political
Examples: Christianity Today, The Nation, National Review, New Republic, etc.
 A journal is the name given a periodical that is scholarly in nature. Articles are written
by researchers or academics and should offer citations to sources consulted. How a
particular article winds up in the journal depends on the kind of journal it is.

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly/Popular

 Popular sources of information are meant for a general audience, who are not
necessarily experts in the field. They are presented in such a way that anyone can get a
general idea of the information being presented.
 Scholarly sources of information are meant for a more specialized audience of experts in
the field.

There are a number of criteria you can use to determine if something is popular or

The treatment of the topic, or writing style

 Tend to deal with very
 Tend to deal with more
specific topics
broad topics
 Long in-depth articles
 Short overview articles
 Are usually original
 Not original research
 Uses plain everyday
 Uses technical language or
Scholarly Popular
Experts in the field (Scientists, Journalists, not necessarily experts
doctors, professors...) (magazine staff, freelance

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Audience, or who is the information written for?
Scholarly Popular
Scholars, researchers, General public. Any one can read
practitioners... other members of the material and understand it.
the field

Scholarly Popular
Often a scholarly or professional Commercial companies

Scholarly Popular
Peer-reviewed / Refereed - edited NOT peer-reviewed - edited by one
or reviewed by other experts in the editor, or editorial board, for
field. readability and popularity, they are
not necessarily experts in any field
other than journalism
Scholarly Popular
Does include References or No references. Sometimes
Bibliography. Often several pages mentions of experts, but no
of references. bibliographies.

Scholarly Popular
Plain covers, few pictures - maybe Glossy covers, lots of color
some graphs and charts, matte pictures, lots of advertisements
paper, few if any advertisements.

Reference vs. General Collection

Another dichotomy in information sources is reference sources vs. general collection books.
Reference works are those resources that you only want to "refer" to a small section of the work,
either to find a quick fact, or to get a general overview of an issue. The information sources
found in the reference collection vary widely, but here are some common ones.
 Encyclopedias are the best sources for reading an overview of a topic. There are both
general encyclopedias, which try to summarize all knowledge, and subject-specific
encyclopedias, which focus only on a general topic like health or the environment, and
offer overviews of aspects of the general topic. Most subject-specific encyclopedias will
also offer a short bibliography or suggestions for further reading.

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 Dictionaries offer shorter definitions and summaries of terms. Like encyclopedias,
dictionaries can be general or subject-specific. Also, just to make it even more confusing,
some reference works are entitled Dictionary of something, but are in fact encyclopedias
in terms of scope and length of the entries.
 Handbooks/Manuals/Guides are works that offer quick facts, formulas, equations, or
names and addresses for a particular subject.
 Atlases offer information in cartographic form. While you may think of atlases as just
offering maps of countries or U.S. states, some atlases describe historical events or social
issues in map form, e.g. the changing borders of European countries, or the percentage of
people in poverty around the world.

Print vs. Electronic

And finally, there's print vs. electronic information. Like print, electronic information
encompasses all the formats mentioned above. You can find electronic books, electronic
periodicals, electronic reference works, etc.
But print is not dead, for a variety of reasons.
 Publishers themselves have been somewhat wary about going completely digital, and
some of them package the electronic versions with purchase of print copies.
 Libraries have centuries worth of print information, and a lot of it is not going to be
digitized anytime soon, if ever, simply because it wouldn't be profitable to digitize it.
 Some types of information don't lend themselves to being read on a computer because of
the current technology, and it isn't cost effective for individuals to print out the
Most e-books, e-journals, databases, and online encyclopedias are not free. The library purchases
them, then gives free access to their patrons who have paid for library resources, either tax
dollars for public libraries and/or tuition to academic libraries.
And then there are all those free websites. There's a lot of useful information out there in
cyberspace, as well as lots of unsubstantiated, worthless information as well. You can find
information on any topic, assuming that someone bothered to create the website. So why would
someone take the time and effort to put the website together?

 For commercial enterprises, they bothered because they want to sell you something, or
they want to attract your attention to bring in advertising revenue.
 For mainstream news organizations or publishers, they are already set up to make
money via advertising, so they may be able afford to offer free content. But they may
only have a week's worth of articles available, or selected articles to entice you to
 For federal and state government agencies, they have a legal mandate to disseminate
information gathered via tax dollars back to the public. So the Internet is seen as a
cheaper method of dissemination than print.
 For non-profit organizations, they want to "get the word out" about their cause, so the
Internet is a perfect medium to distribute their own reports.
 Scholarly information generated by academics can be found, but we are still in the
infancy of the Internet being used for this. There have been a number of big pushes to
have more e-journals, to counteract the costs of scholarly journals, especially in the

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sciences. And there are a number of digitization projects of historical, primary documents
on the Web, many of them sponsored by academic institutions.

 Some Types of Information Sources

▪ Encyclopedias

 Provide a useful starting point for authoritative information.

 May cover a wide range of subjects or a specific subject area.
 In high quality publications, entries are usually written by an expert.
 Useful to gain an understanding of different aspects of a topic, related issues and
associated concepts.

▪ Dictionaries

 Provide definitions of terms.

 Are particularly useful when dealing with terminology specific to a subject area (e.g.. A
concise dictionary of business).
 Meanings are useful in understanding how a word is commonly used.
 Provide synonyms - useful in ensuring comprehensive keyword searches.
 The Library holds dictionaries in print and electronic form.

▪ Books

 May provide a good overview of a topic.

 The information contained in books at the time of publication is rarely less than 12
months old. If currency is important, note carefully the date of publication and check
other sources such as recent journals.
 Books are sometimes referred to as "monographs".
 Books vary considerably in the complexity and reliability of information they contain.

▪ Journals

 Known also as serials, magazines or periodicals.

 Provide details of the latest research and developments in an area.
 May be useful for tracing an idea through from its conception to the current day.
 Are published on a regular basis.
 Generally contain articles on specific topics. Some also contain short news items, letters
and classified advertisements.
 May be classified as scholarly, trade or popular.

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 A scholarly journal is usually written by and for experts in a field. Many scholarly
journals are peer reviewed - which means the articles are evaluated and reviewed by other
experts before publication and can be relied upon to be of high quality.
 Trade journals are published for a particular industry group and should be evaluated in
this context.
 Popular journals range from general interest publications such as The Bulletin to those
focusing broadly on a particular subject area such as Scientific American. These are not
peer reviewed.
 It is essential to evaluate information in journals, including sources.

▪ Newspapers

 Contain information that is very current, usually reflecting public interest and reaction,
but which often goes out of date rapidly.
 Newspapers may have a specialised focus or audience (for example the Financial Times
or The Land).
 Vary in reliability, with broadsheet newspapers (e.g. the New York Times or The
Australian) generally considered more reliable than the tabloids (e.g. Britain's Daily
 Broadsheets are likely to focus on political and economic content. Some newspapers have
a particular political bent or are used as propaganda tools.
 Apply evaluation criteria when reviewing information from newspapers and magazines.

▪ The Internet

 The Internet provides a vast amount of information with a diverse range of complexity
and reliability.
 A web site can be created by a child, a government department, or a person or
organisation with a stated or unstated agenda or bias.
 The Internet provides a wide range of high quality information that is widely and freely
 Information provided by government departments and reputable organisations and
institutions can be highly valuable.
 Information on the Internet may be current to the second - but this is not always the case.
 Information from the Internet should always be evaluated according to criteria
particularly applicable to that source.

▪ Government Publications

 Government publications, can be an authoritative source of high quality information such

as statistics, reports, plans and activities in most aspects of scientific, economic and social
 Much government information is now published on the Web but a wealth of valuable
information is also available in print or on microfiche.

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 Some government information can be biased depending on the political climate of the
country publishing it.

▪ Conference Proceedings

 Recent conference proceedings are a source of information about recent research and
developments in an area.
 They can usually be relied upon as presenting authoritative information.
 Over time, useful for tracing the development of an idea.

▪ Experts

 Experts in a field will often use the Internet to discuss and debate issues. Experts are also
available for consultation at the University, in industry, business and special interest
 Online and offline, self professed "experts" are readily available and willing to provide
information and advise on almost any topic imaginable. While much valuable
information may be available, it is extremely important to know what credentials a person
has to deem themselves an expert and what institutional or organisational affiliations they
have. You should be able to find support for their ideas by other reputable people or
organisations with knowledge of the topic.
 When consulting a subject expert always make sure you have done comprehensive
research on the subject first - this allows you to ask valuable questions and make the most
of the time you have with them.

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