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Information Literacy and the Research Process: Information Resources

This guide was created to address the information literacy general education outcome.

Information Sources

Step 1

Information Sources: Valuing Content over Format

What kind of resources should you be using for your research project? Your primary concern should be the CONTENT of a resource, not the FORMAT of the resource. For example, do you need in-depth information? Analysis? Statistics? Should you use original research? Would an editorial provide the details you need? Do you need information that has been peer reviewed? What about using primary sources? After considering the types of content you might need, then you can think about format and where to locate the right resource.

This page describe the various types of content you might encounter when doing research.  After reading through the boxes detailing content types, use the Checklist below to help determine the format that would be valuable for your project. Finally, look over the table comparing typical Google searches with searches in the library databases.

View the video below to learn more about different types of information.

Step 2

What is a scholarly resource?

A "scholarly" source is something that has been created by a scholar, someone who has earned a degree in the field they are writing about. Usually, a Ph.D credential indicates that the writer has studied and mastered their topic and are considered to be an expert in the field. This means that they have an "informed" opinion, it doesn't mean that their perspective is the only opinion or that it is always beyond question.

Scholarly sources are usually peer-reviewed. This means that other professionals in the field have reviewed and approved the content.

Books can be scholarly sources. Many books are published by scholarly organizations such as university presses or professional organizations for example, the American Bar Association or the Modern Language Association (MLA). Scholarly presses usually publish books that have been written by experts and reviewed by other experts in a given field.

Watch the following video for guidelines on scholarly, trade, and popular sources.

Scholarly, Trade, & Popular Articles from PALNI on Vimeo.

How do you know if a publication is scholarly or a trade journal or popular magazine? Use the following guidelines to evaluate the publication. 

Evaluation Criteria Scholarly Journal Technical or Trade Journal Popular Magazines
What's in the publication? Original research, scholarly book reviews. Practical information for professionals in a given field; news, best practices, updates. Brief articles, various topic including news, sports, art, fashion and more.
Examples: JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nursing, Math Teacher, Newsweek, Time, Psychology Today
Who writes the content? Very technical language, written by scholars, experts in the field, Ph.D or researcher) Author's credentials are usually listed. Articles written by professionals and experts from a field. Articles may contain professional jargon, often professional job listings.Author's credentials are usually listed. Journalists, not necessarily experts in their field.
Cited sources? Sources are always cited, bibliography or footnotes Sometimes sources and bibliographies are available. Sources are rarely cited in a bibliography.
Purpose? Share information with scholarly peers and students Report trends, best practices, practical advice for other professionals or general readers. News, entertainment, hobbies, interests, promoting an opinion, selling a product.
Appearance? Basic, serious look, few colorful pictures or glossy pages. Contains more graphs and charts. Similar in appearance to popular magazines, charts, graphs, some glossy pictures, and advertising usually related to the trade.

Glossy photos, attention getting headlines, photos, with many advertisements.

Review process? Articles are reviewed by other scholars and experts in the field Usually reviewed by editors, occasionally some trade journals are peer reviewed. Reviewed by editorial staff, not peer reviewed.

(Chart based on information from "Scholarly vs Popular Periodicals"

Step 3

Sources of Government Information

A wide array of content can be found using government documents and resources. Many government documents can be found freely on the Internet.

Helpful tip: limit a search in Google to government documents and websites by adding "" to the end of your search terms. For example, you could perform the following search in your Google browser  for water quality and your search results will be limited to government websites.

The following links to government websites may help get you started with your search and give you a general idea of what government resources are available:

  1. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)
  2. U.S. Government Agencies
  3. Data and Statistics, USA.GOV
  4. Department of Commerce
  5. GPO: Government Publishing Office


Step 4

News Sources

Current events and social issues often benefit from news sources, which can be found a variety of ways.
Television, radio, newspapers, and news magazines are some of the major sources of news but, anymore, the majority of news content is accessed via the Internet. News websites, social media sites, and blogs are all sources of news and the content of these sites can be generated by actual news outlets or regular citizens who are monitoring an event as it happens. All news should be evaluated for bias.

It is important to get news from a variety of sources. Google News can provide variety, including an international perspective on current world events, but consider using one of the news databases from the library's list of DATABASES A-Z. In addition to current news sources, these databases can provide historic sources which offer a unique perspective of events in the moment they occurred.

Step 5

Primary VS Secondary Sources

View this video to learn more about primary and secondary information sources.

Primary Sources Primary sources are unfiltered information about an event. These are sources without interpretation, often coming from individuals who experienced the event. Examples of primary sources include statistics, novels, eyewitness newspaper accounts of an event, photographs of an event, the results of a study, the text of a speech, or an original painting. For example, a map of the Underground Railroad in Indiana is a primary source.
Secondary Sources Secondary sources interpret existing information. These sources explain what other sources mean, they interpret data, or present existing data in a new way. Examples of secondary sources include a journal article which discusses the results of a study, an article arguing the meaning of statistics, an analysis of a speech, or a critique of a painting. For example, a book about the history of the Underground Railroad is a secondary source.

Step 6

Why Can't I Just Use Google?

Google VS Database searches
Google Searches Database Searches
Google searches websites and the text content of those websites. It DOES NOT search the content of files on a site. Content is generally a specific type and databases often focus on a single discipline. Content types can include journal articles, books, images, and videos. The Vann Library offers discipline-specific databases for Nursing, Business, Education, and many additional topics.
You can search using normal language and phrases. You can even search for a specific image. Searches can include keywords, subject terms, author names, and specific titles.
Search terms are general and common language is used. Search terms are very specific.
Searches text and metadata for every webpage on the Internet (see the website INTERNET LIVE STATS for an idea of how much information is added to the Internet each day...). Searches individual records for each article or item in the database. This is helpful because the fields provide a framework for you to structure your search. If you know a specific piece of information about a specific item, you can find it.


Step 7

What about Wikipedia?

Many of you have probably been told that you can't use Wikipedia as a source. Some concerns over its accuracy have been raised due to the way content is created for Wikipedia. Anyone can create and update or revise information on Wikipedia, while most other encyclopedias are written and edited by professionals.

Arguments about accuracy aside, Wikipedia is a general encyclopedia, and even traditionally published encyclopedias are not considered appropriate for college level research. This type of resource is intended for basic background information when first investigating a topic. It should not be used as a source you would cite in a college level paper. (There are subject specific encyclopedias which may be appropriate for different topics in some cases, but Wikipedia is a general encyclopedia covering many topics.)

This doesn't mean that Wikipedia is useless to college students. Use it for background information, ideas on narrowing your topic, ideas on search terms, and to lead you to more appropriate resources by following the links at the bottom of articles. It can also lead you to photos and other images in the public domain for use in projects and papers.

Step 8

Types of Information:

What are the characteristics of information, and how do you find the right information for your research? Complete this tutorial to learn how to identify different kinds of information and how to use it to answer your research question.

(Used with permission from the author, William Badke. Scholarly Inquiry and Research Methods, Retrieved from,  07/29/2016)

Step 9

Resource Checklist

What are the best potential resources for your assignment? Consider for example, if your topic is related to medical research, would a Twitter feed be a trustworthy source for medical facts and data? Use the list below to compare potential resources you could use and whether or not they would be appropriate for your assignment.

  • Social Media
  • Wikipedia
  • Websites
  • Reference Books (e.g. encyclopedia or atlas)
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Academic Journals
  • Government Documents
  • Interviews
  • Popular Magazines

Ask A Librarian

Ask A Librarian

If you have any questions about the Research Process, using library resources, or completing these modules, please contact one of our Reference Librarians via the contact information below. You can always call a librarian at 260.638.VANN (8266). Librarians are also available through text at 260.222.5054.


Reference Librarians

Kerri Killion-Mueller, MLIS

Reference & Instruction Librarian

260.399.7700, ext. 6046

Amber Pavlina, MA, MLS

Reference & Instruction Librarian

260.399.7700, ext. 6067





Lee & Jim Vann Library

Pope John Paul II Center

First and Second Floor

Room 101 & 201