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Doing Research: Types of Sources

Walking through the Research Process

Types of Sources

Journals:

Journals, or periodicals, are published continually on a scheduled basis, and can come in physical or electronic formats. These publications contain articles that are usually written by experts within a field. Journal articles are usually the best way to learn the most recent information on topics within a profession or field of study. 

Books:

Books usually provide more comprehensive information on a subject, even if it doesn't contain the most recent information. Textbooks are a good example, they provide foundation level information that can be built on with newer information.‚Äč Like journals, books can also come in electronic formats, or ebooks.

Databases:

Databases are electronic warehouses of information, usually with a searchable interface. Databases usually contain articles from  journals or ebooks, but some databases (i.e. UpToDate or Micromedex) just contain a specific set of topics that are constantly being updated as new information is being discovered.

Websites:

Websites found via search engines can provide a basic understanding of a topic when starting research, but should not be exclusively relied upon for quality research. Remember to use a set of criteria, such as the SMART evaluation, to make sure a website is providing reliable information.

Definitions

Academic Journal:

A journal that publishes articles written by experts. These experts usually have either a degree or years of professional experience in a particular field. Depending on how the journal checks an article for quality before publication, the reliability of the journal may vary, despite being written by "experts". 

Peer Reviewed Journal:

A journal with articles written by experts and reviewed extensively by a group of other experts. Usually the author doesn't know who is reviewing their article and the peer review group doesn't know who the author is. This anonymity is called "double-blind" peer review and is used to prevent undue bias from affecting the review process.

Primary Source:

A source that provides a direct perspective on a research topic. For medical and scientific fields, this includes journal articles with original research conducted by the author. For literary and historical fields, this includes original manuscripts or first-hand accounts of a story. 

Secondary Source:

A source that provides perspective that is one-step removed, or filtered through someone else's perspective, on a topic. For medical and scientific fields, this can be a literature review of different studies conducted on a topic. For literary and historical fields, this could be an essay someone else has written about a topic.

Tertiary Source:

A source that combines information from both primary and secondary sources on a topic and synthesizes it into a brief summary or description. These sources represent the current general understanding of a topic. Examples include dictionaries, encyclopedias, and fact sheets.