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Information Literacy: Types of literature

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Introduction

There are different types of literature suitable for different purposes. Sometimes, for example, you need to figure out what the latest advances in your subject area are, or you need statistics to back up your report. Other times you need a general overview of a subject, or you may need to explore the subject in depth. 

The information you need can be found in a range of sources. Therefore it is important to have a clear idea about the different types of information and related sources before you begin searching. We distinguish grosso modo three types of information you can be looking for:

  • general information;
  • in-depth information; 
  • current research.

Academic Information

Handbook

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.

Monograph

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-books.

Journal Article

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. Please notice that 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.

Click here for an instructive step-by-step guide on How to read a scientific paper from Purdue University.

Reference work / Encyclopaedia

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 renowned academic publishers are reliable and of the required quality.

Edited work

A publication containing articles by various authors, published under the supervision of an editor.
Conference proceedings are an example of an edited work.

Conference material

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.

 

Non-Academic Information

Newspapers

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.

Dictionary

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

Report

Although they are not academic publications, reports by government organisations, think-tanks and companies are useful sources of information in many fields of academic research. They contain:

  • the aims and objectives of social organisations;
  • policy evaluations;
  • effect reports;
  • political and ethical interpretations of academic advances;
  • survey results.

Internet

You can find many different types of information on the internet. Internet sites are only 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.

Statistics

You use statistics when you need figures to back up your report or research.
Examples of statistics databases are:

CBS Overview (Statistical institutes by Statistics Netherlands)

CBS Statline (Statistics Netherlands)

Eurostat (Statistical database of the European Commission)