Encyclopedias provide background information that is general, but brief. They provide an excellent place to start research.
Books typically give a broad, thorough treatment of a subject.
Popular magazines are written for the general public with the purpose of informing and entertaining. Newsweek, Time, and Ebony are examples of popular magazines. Because of their easy reading style, magazines may be a good starting point in understanding a topic. They can also provide a contemporary point of view.
Scholarly journals - Scholarly journals typically have articles written by authorities in the field. They may report research or provide a scholarly discussion of a topic. They usually include bibliographies. For most college level papers, you should rely more heavily on articles from scholarly journals.
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Most scholarly journal articles are peer-reviewed (refereed) - reviewed by experts on the topic before being accepted for publication. Some scholarly journals do not have a peer review process, but have an editorial board that reviews articles to judge their quality. Both peer review and editorial board review are indicators of high quality.
On the next page, you will learn more about how to tell a popular magazine from a scholarly journal.
Newspapers - Newspapers provide accounts of current events and can show trends of public opinion. Older issues of newspapers provide a record of past ideas, problems, and events.
Primary sources are generally first-person accounts, original creative works, and raw data; however, what constitutes a primary source varies by discipline. A scholar in the humanities may use a newspaper photograph or a poem as a primary source while a scientist might use data from an experiment or an artifact from an archaeological dig.
Note the difference between primary sources and secondary sources. Secondary sources comment upon, explain, or interpret primary sources. They may include scholary books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, reviews, and textbooks.
Government publications are issued by local, state, national, or international governments. Government information includes laws, regulations, statistics, consumer information, and much more. Government information is generally considered to be reliable. Much of it is online.