Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Information Literacy Course International Relations: Types of scholarly publications


Not all information is suitable for every purpose. Sometimes you will need to find out about the latest advances in your subject area, sometimes you will need statistics to back up your report, sometimes you will need a general overview of a subject, or you may need to explore the subject in depth. 

This information can be found in a range of sources. Before you begin searching, you need to have a clear idea of the different types of information and related sources: are you looking for general information, in-depth information and/or current research?

Handbook - provides overview

A handbook offers a synthesis of the accepted knowledge in the field. Authors of handbooks use the results of many specialized and detailed research projects and construct a general overview. 

The authors of handbooks do not describe their own research, but provide an overview of the existing knowledge in the subject area. 

Handbooks usually cover a whole field of study or substantial subfields. There are for example handbooks about International Relations, about Security Studies, about International Political Economy and about American foreign policy. Libraries have large collections of handbooks. 

Make use of handbooks; they are essentially reference works that provide background information about a subject. You should consult a handbook if you have to write about a particular subject but lack the basic knowledge. Handbooks are not intended to be read cover-to-cover. You pick the part that is relevant to your topic. In electronic handbooks you can even search in the full text.

Textbooks that are used in the study are handbooks.

Reference work - provides overview

Encyclopaedias are used to find information quickly. Entries in an encyclopaedia are usually in alphabetical order.

Wikipedia is an example of an online encyclopaedia. If you use Wikipedia, remember that the quality of the information varies and the information may not be 100% reliable. This is because anyone can contribute to it.

Encyclopaedias published by renown academic publishers are reliable and of the required quality.

Dictionary - about terminology

You use dictionaries to look up terminology; concepts that relate to your subject.

Monograph - provides extensive, in-depth information

A scholarly monograph is a book of 200-300 pages that is written by one or more authors. Monographs contain considerably more information than conference papers or journal articles. The author did extensive research about the topic. Monographs provide an exhaustive examination of the subject, an in-depth treatment.

You normally read monographs from cover to cover. The author wants to prove something with the book. All chapters together lead to a conclusion. 

The production time of a scholarly monograph amounts to several years. If you want information about very recent events, there will be no scholarly monographs available. 

Monographs are still published in print, but more and more as e-book.

Journal article - recent research

Scholarly journals are the most important medium in which to publish new research results.

Every field of study has its own scholarly journals. The library has subscriptions to at least 30.000 scholarly journals. For the field of International Relations there must be hundreds. Some journals cover the whole field of IR, while others are more specialised.

Scholarly journals are written for other scholars, for insiders. They are not directed at the general public. They use specialist jargon.

Almost all scholarly journals in the field of International Relations are electronic.

Edited books - recent research

An edited book or collection of essays is a publication that consists of articles written by different authors. One or more editors coordinate the production of the book and sometimes write an introduction. Edited books are often published on topics that 'new' and not extensively researched. 

A special type of edited book are conference proceedings.

Conference material - recent research

This is an important source of recent research. When a conference is held, speakers are invited to present a paper about their current research. The papers are then published in a single volume as ‘conference proceedings’. In many cases, authors subsequently write articles based on their conference papers.

Video about journal articles

Video of Purdue University.
Click on the image to start.

Example handbook

Click on the image

Example monograph

Click on the image

Example edited book

Click on the image

Example scholarly journal

Click on the image