Introduction to Information Sources

Academic projects often require the use of information sources in order to define, illustrate, compare, support or apply ideas. This is also true of many lines of work in today's information economy. Hence a familiarity with information sources is essential for competent performance in a variety of careers. The purpose of this primer on information sources is to provide a basic understanding of various types of information sources and their possible uses.

Reference Sources Theses and Dissertations
Non-reference Books Audiovisual Media
News Articles Data Sets
Magazine Articles Informally Published Content
Journal Articles Unpublished Works
Technical and Research Reports
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Reference Sources

Reference sources provide relatively brief information and point to other sources with in-depth coverage. They are useful in learning the vocabulary of a discipline, getting quickly acquainted with a subject, and as pointers to more comprehensive and authoritative information.

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Non-reference Books

Non-reference books concentrate in a particular subject or aspect of it. They are useful in projects requiring the application of specific knowledge or skills, in-depth treatment of a subject or as subjects themselves.

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News Articles

News articles from newspapers and other news media chronicle events around their time of publication. They are useful in choosing and illustrating topics dealing with current events. Old articles, which can be found in archival facilities, provide a glimpse into history as it happened and can be useful in projects of a historical nature.

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Magazine Articles

Magazine articles provide stories, news analysis, product reviews and other types of essays written for the general public (popular magazines) or for a particular trade group (trade magazines). They can be useful in choosing and illustrating a topic.

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Journal Articles

Articles in academic journals introduce and scrutinize research in specific fields. Before publication, they go through a review by qualified individuals, a process known as peer review. Because of this, they are highly authoritative and constitute prime material to support arguments. Their specialized nature, however, often makes their language very technical and their topics very narrow.

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Technical and Research Reports

Technical and research reports, like journal articles, usually cover original research but may or not be peer reviewed. Because of this, they may not have the same assumed reliability of journal articles. Government agencies issue a high volume of this kind of information source. Similarly to journal articles, the language of technical and research reports may be highly specialized and cover very specific topics.

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Theses and Dissertations

Theses and dissertations are original research presented by candidates of a degree program, typically at the graduate level. They are best suited for use in academic projects requiring a thorough review of literature on a topic, which is not normally the case for undergraduate-level work. Similarly to journal articles, their language is likely to be highly specialized and cover very specific topics.

Examples

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Audiovisual Media

Audiovisual media includes recorded speech or music, images and video. Beyond their obvious usefulness in artistic projects, they are also essential in multimedia projects, and may serve as illustrations or be a project's subject matter themselves.

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Data Sets

Data sets are collections of data, usually presented in tabular form. They are useful in projects where uncovering patterns in data is desirable. This is common in a wide range of profiling practices, such as marketing, surveillance, fraud detection and scientific discovery. Data sets are sometimes appended to journal articles and other sources of original research. Government agencies are prolific producers of data sets.

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Informally Published Content

With Web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing and collaboration, publishing is within the reach of many more people than it has ever been before. However, this also means that it has never been easier to disseminate misinformation or push hidden agendas. As a general rule, academic projects should not base arguments on such sources, but they could be useful in illustrating a topic or as subject matter themselves.

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Unpublished Works

Personal or corporate collections of essays, reports, letters, photographs, sound and video recordings, etc. can be very useful in projects on historical topics. They are usually housed in archival facilities, but some can be previewed on the Web.

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