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*Finding Sources*

Types of Sources

There are a variety of sources available to you.  There is not a definitive best type - it will depend upon the purpose of your search and what information you need.  For example, if you are looking at current events, you probably won't want to start with books, as they take much longer to publish than articles or Internet sites, and therefore would likely be out of date.  However, if you start looking at the history of the context of the event, books might be a good place to look, as you will often find historical accounts and analyses in books.

  • Books - Books generally take the longest time for publication, and therefore may go out of date sooner.  This also means that they don't contain up-to-the-minute information.  They are good for looking at historical topics, topics that don't change rapidly, and analysis of topics.
  • Periodicals - Periodicals are published faster than books, and are generally the go-to source for current research and more timely information. Academic journals are usually considered reliable and credible sources of information.  Popular magazines require additional evaluation to determine suitability for your purpose.
  • Internet Sites - Internet sites can be updated almost instantaneously, so they are often the best source for breaking news and current events.  Because anyone can create content on the Internet with no editorial control, you must be diligent in evaluating these sources for accuracy, credibility, bias, timeliness and purpose.


Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals


What does it mean, and why does it matter?

Sources available as you conduct research will vary quite a bit in purpose, audience, and reliability.  One important distinguishing characteristic is whether a periodical is considered popular or scholarly/academic.  You need to learn how to tell them apart as well as determine which type is more appropriate for your information needs.


McMaster Libraries. How Library Stuff Works: Scholarly vs Popular Sources. YouTube. Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed).


Popular Magazines

Think about the magazines you find in grocery, drug, and book stores.  In popular magazines, you generally find lots of advertisements in addition to articles illustrated with several pictures. Popular magazines are written for the general public, usually for entertainment, general information, or keeping up with current events.

The Publishing Process

Popular magazines are normally written and edited by professional journalists.  The authors who write the articles are usually not subject experts, but are expected to have done adequate and appropriate research in preparing the article.  The editor has final say on what gets printed in the magazine.


  • Popular Science
  • Time
  • Sports Illustrated
  • People

What you might use them for: Finding examples of print advertisements; current interest topics; basic information; entertainment; etc.


Academic or Scholarly Journals

Academic/scholarly journals are written for students, faculty and professionals, and contain high quality articles.  Research results are generally published in these periodicals, and charts and graphs are common for presenting data.  The limited advertising is geared toward the specific audience that read the journal.

The Publishing Process

Articles in academic/scholarly journals are written by subject experts, as opposed to journalists that write for popular magazines.  The editors who make the final decision on what is published also have expertise in the subject area covered by the journal.


  • Adult Learning
  • American Nurse Today
  • Journal of Property Management
  • The Science Teacher
  • Journal of Accounting

What you might use them for: Finding research about various topics; analysis of events and topics.

Peer-Reviewed Journals Peer review adds an additional level of reliability.  Not only are these articles written by subject experts, they are also reviewed by other subject experts for quality before being accepted for publication. 

McMaster Libraries. How Library Stuff Works: Peer Review. YouTube. Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)


Trade Magazines

Trade Magazines are usually published by a professional organization for its members and others in the field.  (Some trade magazines are also considered academic/scholarly journals.)

The Publishing Process

Trade Magazines are generally written and edited by practitioners in a field.


  • Techniques - Association for Career and Technical Education 
  • Young Children - National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • Science and Children - National Science Teachers Association
  • Management Review - American Management Association
  • CMA Today - American Association of Medical Assistants

What you might use them for: Finding articles about current practice and/or interest in a field.