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Types of Resources: sub-module 2 of 5 of how to research

Your assignment will often indicate which types of resources you should use, to support your work. Whether you search the web, or look for information through the library, you should be familiar with the various types of resources available to you, and the benefits of using them.


Top Tips

  • Start with the assignment.Your assignment will often indicate the types of resources you should use, to support your research. If it does not, clarify the expectations with your instructor.
  • Formal information resources.Formal resources are often published and/or reviewed by experts. Books/ebooks, academic journals (including open access journals) are considered more formal. Formal resources = academic, scholarly.
  • Informal resources.Informal resources are published on social media, in popular magazines and newspapers, and found in discussing fora (forums). Informal resources often lead to discovery of more formal resources.
  • Evaluate everything you find.Look at information through a critical lens. Don't believe everything you read, and double check information to find consistency. Use the evaluation checklists Opens in new window to help you with the critical analysis process.

Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research

Read Chapter 2: Types of Sources to get in-depth information about the various types of information sources. 

Types of Resources

Information comes in many different formats. Some types of resources are formal, while others are informal. Understanding the various types of content available to you, will make it easier to plan your research. Click below to learn more about the various types of information sources.

From an information perspective, print and ebooks are similar. The main difference between them is access. Print books are physical items, whereas ebooks are digital files, that can be accessed from a variety of devices.

Book publication can take a long time. First, the author researches the topic, then they write a draft. The unpublished manuscript is then sent to a published, edited, rewritten, and finally ... published. This can be a lengthy process and explains why even if a book is released in 2016, it likely doesn’t contain up-to-the minute information.

Why use books/ebooks? Books provide overviews, background, history and introductions as well as in-depth examinations of topics. They are useful when you are looking for in-depth information on a topic, or background overview of a subject area.

When researching a topic for your academic work, you may be asked to find scholarly journals, or work with academic articles.  In a research article a researcher, or group of researchers, present findings of their research.

Academic journals can also contain opinion pieces, book reviews, literature reviews, etc.

Research is multidisciplinary. In order for an article to be published in an academic journal, it has to go through a formal submission process, and often, a peer review process.

Peer reviewed journals have a board, or panel of subject experts, who review articles submitted for publication, often working with authors to edit their articles before publication. Not all academic journals are peer reviewed.

Download the below documents to learn more about Journal Articles:

Trade magazines print articles aimed at people working in a particular field. Often, articles published in trade journals are written by practitioners in the field. The content in trade journals focuses on working in the profession, trends, news related to that field, or trade, rather than academic research.

Consider trade journals to be more practical than the more theoretical and philosophical academic journals.

Examples of trade journals include:

Popular magazine articles typically focus on information from pop culture. Articles are usually short, and with images embedded throughout.

Examples of popular magazines include:

In comparison, scholarly articles are long, black and white, and have statistical tables and graphs included as part of the research. Academic papers also have a long list of references available at the end of the paper.

While popular magazine articles are informative, and often mention academic research, they may not be the best choice to include as part of academic research.

Open access journals are online academic publications, made available to readers without subscription fees, free of charge. Traditional publishers (e.g. Sage(opens in new window), Oxford University Press(opens in new window)) also make some of their content available through open access.

Examples of open access journals:

Open access articles can be found through Google, Google Scholar, or any other search engine, as well as through the college library.

When using open access literature for academic work, make sure to evaluate the content critically(opens in new window).

Grey literature refers to materials published non-commercially. These materials can be made available by the government, academia, non-for-profit, business and trade organizations, in print and digital formats. Examples of grey literature include:

  • Conference proceedings
  • Reports (e.g. statistical, technical, committee reports)
  • White papers
  • Flyers
  • Newsletters
  • Fact sheets
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Patents
  • Unpublished materials

Why use grey literature? It is sometimes more current than published research, and it is a great way to supplement your research, providing your project with a full picture viewpoint. You can find grey literature online, by searching Google (or another search engine), and/or Google Scholar.

Websites are the most prolific of online resources, and can be found using a search engine (like Google). Websites can serve a variety of purposes, here are a few examples:

  • Individuals - showcase work in a portfolio, to communicate a message
  • For profit companies - promote their brand, or market their products
  • Non profit companies - promote their cause
  • Governments - educate citizens, and publish government based research
  • Educational institutions - publish information related to programs and courses, as well as information relevant for the academic community
  • Others

When using information from websites for your academic work, make sure to evaluate the content critically(opens in new window).

Social media posts can be a great source of information. Social media can also add to information overload. In order to tap into the most relevant information, identify relevant #hashtags, @profiles, conversation threads, and blogs on your topic of interest.

Here are examples of the different types of social media platforms:

  • Facebook - Pages and Groups
  • Twitter - #hashtags and @profiles
  • Blogs - personal reflections, and sharing
  • Wikis - crowdsourced information
  • Discussion fora (forums) - conversations on a specific topic

Whenever you use content found on social media for your academic work, make sure to evaluate the content critically(opens in new window).