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 information?
Do you have an overview of the available sources? If so, you can make a list of relevant sources for your specific search. This is what you will work with.
A handbook is a synthesis of the current knowledge in research, in a particular research area or in a research sub-discipline.
The authors of handbooks do not describe their own research, but provide an overview of the latest knowledge in the subject area.
Textbooks deal with extensive subjects (e.g. the history of Latvia).
Make use of handbooks; they are not intended to be read from beginning to end. They are essentially reference books that provide background information about a subject. For example, you should consult a handbook if you have to write about a particular subject but lack the basic knowledge.
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 in the University Library collection are reliable and of the required quality.
You use dictionaries to look up terminology; concepts that relate to your subject.
A monograph deals with one fairly specific subject, which is discussed in detail. Monographs are usually between 200 and 300 pages long. A characteristic of a monograph is that it contains a lot of information and explores the subject in great depth. It takes quite a long time to produce a monograph. If you need very recent information, it is best to use journal articles.
They are published in printed form, but more and more monographs are published in digital format as e-books.
Academic articles are published in academic journals. An article is a report of research that the author has carried out. Articles deal with the subject in depth and specialist jargon is used. Academic articles provide a picture of the developments in the subject area. They give a comprehensive view of recent research.
Although some academic journals are still published in printed form, the emphasis is shifting towards online publication, i.e. e-journals.
Click here for an instructive video of Purdue University about academic articles (only with Internet Explorer).
A publication containing articles by various authors, published under the supervision of an editor. Other terms are: 'collection of essays' or 'edited book'.
Characteristics: around 200 pages long, under supervision of one or more editors who arrange the contents and often write an introduction and/or a conclusion or summary.
The articles, usually 10-20 pages long, are written by one or more authors.
- Some edited books are published as a result of a conference or symposium. Afterwards the papers are published in an edited book, called Proceedings.
- Some edited works contain essays about new topics about which no monographs have yet been written. Publishers see this as an opportunity. They ask a number of specialists in the field to write an article about such a new topic. These articles are then published as a collection of essays.
Edited works, like scientific journals, contain articles presenting recent research.
Although they are not academic publications, reports by government organizations, think-tanks and companies are useful sources of information in many fields of academic research. They contain:
- the aims and objectives of social organizations
- policy evaluations
- effect reports
- political and ethical interpretations of academic advances
- survey results
Sometimes we use reports because the person or organization that produced them are the subject of our research. Sometimes we use the information in a report as the basis for a research project. Some reports contain specialist analyses that can serve to substantiate or prove a theory.
(see ‘In-depth information’)
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.
Newspaper articles contain very recent information. Although they do not contain academic information, newspapers can be a useful source. The University Library has subscriptions (including online subscriptions) to the main Dutch and foreign newspapers. In the Nexis Uni database you can search for newspaper articles by keyword.
You can find many different types of information on the internet. Internet sites are regarded as academic sources if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
- The site or publication is the online version of an existing or previously printed academic publication.
- An academic institution has responsibility for the content. Examples include digital versions of theses.
- The author of the publication is named, it has a proper bibliography and the same methodical structure as an academic publication.
- The site or online publication is edited by at least one academic.
(see ‘In-depth information’)