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Understanding & Evaluating Sources

Types of Sources

These are sources that you are likely to encounter when doing academic research.

 Questions?  Ask us!

   Scholarly publications (Journals)

A scholarly publication contains articles written by experts in a particular field.  The primary audience of these articles is other experts.  These articles generally report on original research or case studies.  Many of these publications are "peer reviewed" or "refereed".  This means that scholars in the same field review the research and findings before the article is published.  Articles in scholarly publications, in most cases:

  • are written by and for faculty, researchers, or other experts in a field

  • use scholarly or technical language

  • include a full bibliography of sources cited in the article

  • are often peer reviewed (refereed)

To see the typical components of a scholarly journal article check out the Anatomy of a Scholarly Article page from North Carolina State University Libraries.

 

   Popular sources (News and Magazines)

There are many occasions on which reading articles from popular sources can help to introduce you to a topic and introduce you to how that topic is being discussed in society.  Articles in popular sources, in most cases:

  • are written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience

  • written in a language that is easy to understand by the general public

  • rarely have a bibliography - rather, they are fact-checked through the editorial process of the publication they appear in

  • don't assume prior knowledge of a subject area - for this reason, they are often very helpful to read if you don't know a lot about your subject area yet

  • may contain an argument, opinion, or analysis of an issue

 

   Professional/Trade sources

Trade publications are generally for practitioners.  They are focused on a specific field but are not intended to be "scholarly".  Rather, they communicated the news and trends in that field.  Articles in trade publications, in most cases:

  • are written by practitioners in a field (nurses, teachers, social workers, etc)

  • use the language (and jargon) of the field

 

Books / Book Chapters

Many academic books will be edited by an expert or group of experts.  Often, books are a good source for a thorough investigation of a topic.  Unlike a scholarly article, which will usually focus on the results of one research project, a book isilikely to include an overview of research or issues related to its topic.  

 

Conference proceedings

Conference proceedings are compilations of papers, research, and information presented at conferences. Proceedings are sometimes peer-reviewed and are often the first publication of research that later appears in a scholarly publication (see above!).  Proceedings are more commonly encountered (via databases and other searching) in science and engineering fields that in the arts and humanities.  

 

Government Documents

The Government Printing Office disseminates information issued by all three branches of the government to federal depository libraries (including NMSU).  Additionally, the many departments of the government publish reports, data, statistics, white papers, consumer information, transcripts of hearings, and more.  Some of the information published by government offices is technical and scientific.  Other information is meant for the general public.

 

Theses & Dissertations

Theses and dissertations are the result of an individual student's research while in a graduate program.  They are written under the guidance and review of an academic committee but are not considered "peer-reviewed" or "refereed" publications.