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Research Methods: What Type of Source?

Basic Approach to a Research Project

Books, Periodical Articles, and the Internet

Books

Advantages: Scholarly books contain authoritative information and this can include comprehensive accounts of research or scholarship, historical data, overviews, experts' views on themes/topics. Use a book when you require background information and related research on a topic, when you want to add depth to a research topic or put your topic in context with other important issues.

Disadvantages: Because it can take years, in some instances, to write and publish books, they are not always the best sources for current topics.  They cannot be used for breaking news.

Scholarly Journals/Peer-Reviewed Articles

Scholarly Journals are a type of periodical, that is, a publication that creates a new issue at regular intervals, or periodically.  Journal issues may be published weekly, monthly, quarterly (every 3 months), annually, and some at longer, but predictable intervals.

Advantages:  The articles found in many scholarly journals go through a "peer-review" process. In other words, the articles are checked by academics and other experts. The information is therefore reliable.  As well as containing scholarly information, journal articles can include reports and/or reviews of current research and topic-specific information.

Use scholarly  journals when you need original research on a topic; articles and essays written by scholars or subject experts; factual documented information to reinforce a position; or references lists that point you to other relevant research. Scholarly journals take less time to publish than books, but the peer-review process can be lengthy. 

Disadvantages: Scholarly journals include information of academic interest, so they are not the best sources for general interest topics. Because the peer-review process can be time-consuming, they may not include up-to-the minute news or current event information.  Many of the articles are very narrow in interest and may be too advanced for college freshmen and sophomores.

Other Periodicals

Magazines and newspapers are also periodicals, but they are popular, and they are not reviewed anyone besides the editor.

Advantages:  Since they do not pass through multiple layers of review, they are less authoritative, but more current.  The articles are written by journalists, not by researchers seeking to publish the results of their research.  They are good for popular subjects, like sports, and entertainment, for example, Time Magazine, and for news  They may also be specific to a particular subject, for example, Psychology Today.

Disadvantages:  Newspaper and Magazine articles are less authoritative, may be biased (which may not be apparent), and may not be checked for accuracy.

Websites

Advantages: Websites provide up-to-the minute news and information about current events, trends, and controversial topics.  They may also contain government publications such as reports, statistics, legislation and service information; interviews, newspaper articles; research reports; conference/workshop/symposium papers; maps and other types of resources.   

Disadvantages:  Because anyone can publish anything on the web, website information is frequently inaccurate or biased, and sometimes outdated. Only a very limited amount of scholarly information is available on the open web. 

--Modified From: CQUniversity Library, Australia