Evaluating Information Sources
Information can come from virtually anywhere. The saying "you can't see the forest for the trees" has never sounded truer than today. So much information is available through so many new sources that searching and actually finding what you need is growing more and more complex.
Maneuvering effectively through the growing universe of information means you'll need to become information-smart in a lot of new ways. It means knowing what kind of information you want and where to find it. It means having the skills to use online tools via a library portal or search engine on the Web to get to the information you need. And it means being able to evaluate what you find so that you feel confident that you have what you need.
Magazines, journals and newspapers are called "periodicals" because they are published at regular, periodic intervals throughout the year. When compared with books, periodical articles are generally shorter, more current, and focused on more specific topics.
Need to find scholarly, academic research articles? Then look at journals, which are aimed at researchers in the academic or professional community. Need to find general articles geared toward the average reader? Then look for magazines.
A popular magazine is usually geared toward the general public. It will tend to have shorter articles that cover a wide range of areas. There will be lots of pictures and advertisements. Articles tend to summarize big or complicated topics and don't usually have lists of references or bibliographies.
Examples: Psychology Today, Newsweek, Vogue
Popular magazines are great for:
- Information or opinions about popular culture
- Up-to-date information about current events
- General articles written for people who are not necessarily specialists in the topic area
A journal is a scholarly periodical aimed at researchers, academics, and professionals. Articles tend to be much longer, going into detail and usually have a list of references or citations at the end. You won't find many photographs or pictures, and probably no advertisements. Many journals are published by universities or scholarly groups.
Examples: Journal of Beckett Studies, Psychological Research
Use a journal:
- When doing scholarly, academic research
- To find what experts have to say about your topic
- To find bibliographies that point to other relevant research
There are many kinds of books and related materials. Some books, such as encyclopedias and bibliographies, are comprehensive guides to an entire subject. Others may present one opinion on an issue, or information on a specialized aspect of a topic. For research purposes, you will probably be looking for books that synthesize all the information on one topic.
Books cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction. For research purposes, you will probably be looking for books that synthesize all the information on one topic. Increasingly, libraries are purchasing "E-books," electronic versions of books that are accessible to students via the Web.
Use a book:
- When looking for a lot of information on a topic
- To put your topic in context with other important issues
- To find historical information
- To find summaries of research to support an argument
This brief video from the University of Southern Florida libraries demonstrates when to use a book or an article for research.
Looking to see what information the Library can give you access to? Trying to locate an article on a particular topic? Looking for the address of a friend?
The Library uses the Web to make available to BCC faculty, staff and students a wealth of full-text journal articles, periodical indexes in every discipline, and numerous databases of images, statistics, maps, and other information.
The Public Web
The term "Web" is most often used to refer to resources freely available to all users, what might be called the "Public Web." The Public Web is particularly useful for finding current information on people, organizations, companies and government bodies.