Determining Sources of Information

1) Introduction
2) What Is Research?
3) Choosing a Topic
4) Determining Sources of Information
5) Developing a Search Strategy
6) Quiz

Stage 4: Decide what type and amount of information is needed, how current it should be, and what types of sources will provide that information.
At this point in the process, you should conduct an information needs analysis -- a process in which you decide how much information is needed and what sources might provide that information. The type and amount of information you need depends to a large degree on the final product you're working toward. Are you preparing a 15-page term paper, a group report, or a three-minute speech? Each project requires different kinds and amounts of information. To help you conduct your information needs analysis, ask yourself the following three questions:

1) "What type of information on my topic do I need?"
-- background?
-- broad overview?
-- biographical?
-- objective/subjective?
-- statistical?
-- factual?
-- primary/secondary accounts?
-- narrowly focused discussion?
-- current news?
-- scholarly/technical/popular discussions?
-- analysis and commentary?
-- recent/older publications? Both?

2) "How much information on my topic do I need?"

Your professor may require a minimum number of sources depending on the exact nature of the research project. If your instructor doesn't specify how much information you need to cite or consult during your research, you can decide for yourself based on the amount of information that's available on your topic, the level of expertise you'd like to gain, and of course, the length of the final written or oral presentation.

3) "What types of information sources might provide the information I seek?"

Here you are speculating about the types of materials (information sources) that could possibly give you information pertinent to your topic. They may include, but are not limited to the following:

-- reference materials (e.g. general and subject encyclopedias)
-- books
-- periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and journals)
-- conference proceedings/papers
-- dissertations
-- pamphlets
-- bibliographies/research guides
-- unpublished materials
-- people (experts, scholars, others)
-- government documents
-- Internet resources

Print vs. electronic forms of information
With easy access to electronic resources, one can understand why students might think of the research process as beginning and ending with computers. However, there is no "one-stop shopping" when it comes to doing quality research. A good researcher knows how to find information in a wide variety of formats.

Not all information is available in electronic format. Many information sources in academic disciplines are not yet available electronically. In addition, computerized databases have only emerged as a research tool since the 1960s, so the bulk of information in libraries is in a print format, as it has been since the invention of the printing press in 1465. It may be years before much of this historical knowledge is available in an electronic format, and some of it may never be.

Advantages of electronic online searching:

·         Speed. You can search multiple databases in a matter of seconds, while a comparable search in print indexes takes much longer.

·         Flexibility. You can link words or search terms in a way that can never be done in print, often with better search results.

·         Variability. Truncating (shortening) terms allow you to search for all the variations of a term. For example, using the truncated term "college*" will retrieve "college," "colleges," "collegial," and "collegiate."

·         More resources. Online searching provides access to many more resources than are available in any one library.

·         Currency. Online databases are updated more frequently than printed sources.

Disadvantages of electronic online searching:

·         Volume. You tend to get back an enormous number of search results, particularly if you are searching the Internet.

·         False hits. Any search in an electronic database will frequently result in a number of false matches of your keyword search terms. For example, a search for information on "AIDS" may easily turn up false hits such as "study aids" or "visual aids.”

·         Cross-references. Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of online searching is the lack of cross-references that take the researcher from a poor choice of keywords to terms that will result in a higher rate of success. This is particularly true if you make a typographical error or spell a word wrong. If your topic is broad, "see also" references (sometimes available in electronic databases) will suggest more appropriate headings. If you haven't picked the right subject heading, the "see" references will lead you to the subject heading in actual use.

·         Older sources. Since many online databases only index articles published after 1980, you will need to use print indexes to locate older articles. If you plan to do research in the humanities or in history you will most likely need to consult information published prior to 1980.

Scholarly Journals versus Popular Magazines

Periodicals can be roughly categorized into two types: popular and scholarly. Sometimes your instructor will insist on your using a certain number of scholarly sources. Here is how to tell the difference between the two:

Scholarly and Professional Journals
Definition: Scholarly publications are concerned with academic study, especially research.
Purpose: To report on original research or experimentation; to make such information available to the profession.
Language: Written by and for scholars in the field, using the terminology and jargon of the discipline.
Sources: Always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies.
Examples: New England Journal of Medicine, Harvard Business Review, Journal of Popular Culture

Popular Magazines
Definition: Popular magazines appeal to the taste and intelligence of the general public.
Purpose: To provide general information to a broad audience.
Language: For any audience.
Sources: Sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.
Examples: Fortune, Scientific American, Psychology Today, Time Magazine

Adapted from:
College of San Mateo, LIBR 684
College of San Mateo, LIBR 105: Online Research Skills
Diablo Valley College, Scholarly Journals vs. Magazines
Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Information Literacy Tutorial
Skyline College,  LSCI 100: Introduction to Information Resources

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