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Learn the Library Session C: Help! I need to form a research question!

Participants will learn how identify information gaps to create a research question, determine the depth and scope of the question, seek multiple perspectives in information gathering.

Types of Sources

Books offer:

  • a comprehensive view of a topic
  • writing by credible authors
  • work that has gone through and editing and review process

Encyclopedia and other reference materials offer:

  • a quick overview of your topic
  • citations of more comprehensive work (usually, but not always - think Wikipedia!) 
  • information that may be very useful in specific fields (e.g. sciences)

 

Newspapers offer:

  • short, topical articles
  • easy to read (written for the general public)
  • covering topics of general interest
  • no citations or references

Databases offer:

  • access to subject-specific resources including scholarly articles; searches across many (even into the 100's) journal titles
  • options to filter/limit search criteria
  • tools for research chaining (links: subject, author, etc.)

Magazines offer:

  • shorter topical articles
  • appeal to the general public
  • glossy pictures and graphics
  • often no references

Scholarly & Peer Reviewed Journals offer:

  • research articles and studies written by experts
  • peer-reviewed: work that has been vetted by a committee of experts in the field
  • in-depth and subject specific information
  • long articles with references, abstracts, literature reviews, methodology, etc.

 

Trade Publications offer:

  • news and reports, forecasts, and reviews from a specific industry or profession
  • may provide highly specialized information and statistics
  • frequently used in areas like business and law


Conference proceedings are oral presentations, posters and papers on a specific topic, often related to a professional or personal interest association. Conference proceedings are often schoalrly in nature, but not always. It is common for research results to be in-progress or not yet completed. As they are not published in traditionally scholarly means, we call this type of resource "grey literature". 

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Scholarly or Popular

Scholarly Popular
  • Written by experts
  • Audience: researchers and professionals
  • Writing details research and research process
  • Work contains a list of references and citations
  • Examples: Journal of Food Science, Journal of Applied Psychology 
  • Written by journalists
  • Audience: nonprofessional an/or general public
  • Briefly discusses or explains a study or research, does not go in depth
  • Covers news and general interest topics
  • No bibliography or citation
  • Examples: New York Times, People, The Economist

 

Peer Review Trade Publications / Experts
  • A sober second look
  • Expert findings and research evaluated in a review process
  • Covers methodology and theory of research projects
  • Useful for most academic areas
  • Not always found in fields like Business, Education, Law
  • Includes: citation, references, bibliography
  • No advertisements and few images
  • Audience: members of a specific business, industry or organization
  • Authored by experts, staff writers and journalists
  • Expert practitioner findings considered scholarly in some disciplines
  • Highlights industry trends, new products, organizational news
  • Usually includes editorial review
  • May have short bibliographies

 

You may be asked to consult a peer-reviewed journal or use refereed papers for your assignments. Not all scholarly journals participate in a peer-review process, which is a way publishers ensure articles meet the standards of their journal. A peer reviewed paper is submitted and a panel of experts (often calls go out to individuals in the field) read and critique the piece. Any suggestions, errors, omissions or problematic aspects identified by the reviewers are provided in comments to the authors and a paper is either rejected, accepted, or accepted with revisions. To avoid bias, peer-review is done best in a blinded way so that both the author and the peer-reviewers have their personal and institutional information stripped so that it is unknown who either party is.  

To determine if a journal participates in peer-review, check the "About" or "Information for Authors" sections where that will be explained. It is common for peer-reviewed journals to have certain categories where peer-review occurs (research and review papers ets), and others (like letters, opinion, product summaries etc) where it doesn't. You can also use the Ulrich database to get a quick sense as to whether a journal is refereed. 

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Peer Review Process