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Finding Information

Information Needs | Information Types | Information Sources
Finding Aids
| Citations

Information Needs

The best way to begin a search for information is to define your information need. You should ask yourself, "What kind of information do I need?" You may need an overview, a comprehensive search of research on a topic, a quick reference to a fact, or an in-depth treatment. Once you decide what kind of information you need, you can select the sources that are likely to have the information you need.

Remember:  to write a well-balanced paper you should review several different types of information sources including books, periodicals (magazines, journals, and newspapers), and possibly Internet sites.

Information Types

  • Primary sources are firsthand accounts, original works, or original research, published in either paper or electronic formats. It may be a work of literature or art or an account of an event. Journal articles that describe original research are primary sources.

  • Secondary sources are sources that are often based on primary sources, and include reviews, criticism, editorials, and analysis. Journal articles that provide an analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of research by others, such as a literature review, are secondary sources. Encyclopedias and most books are secondary sources.

Information Sources

  • Encyclopedias provide a general overview on a topic. They are a good place to start your research. Encyclopedias can be found in the reference sections of most public and academic libraries. Search NovaCat for general and subject-specific encyclopedias available at the NSU Libraries.
  • Monographs or books typically give a broad, thorough treatment of a subject, usually from a retrospective point of view. They can be located using Library Catalogs including NovaCat, the NSU Catalog.
  • A periodical is a generic term which includes newspapers, popular magazines, scholarly journals, and subject or professional publications. They usually provide information that is focused and in-depth. Periodicals are important because they are an excellent source for current information. Subjects that are new or too specialized to be covered in books can often be found in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Periodicals have a variety of purposes and kinds of audiences. They may include news, opinion, editorial comments, scholarly analysis and research. They range from newsletters of trade organizations to in-depth journals published by scientific societies and university presses. For further information, see The Basics: Popular and Scholarly Communication and Distinguishing Information Sources.
    • Scholarly journals are written for a specialized audience in an objective manner and using technical jargon. Articles normally include an abstract, a description of methodology, footnotes, and a bibliography.
    • Popular journals are written for a general audience using common terminology. Articles are easily understandable to the general population.
    • Peer reviewed or refereed journals are scholarly journals where the quality of the articles is maintained via a review process by experts prior to publication. The articles submitted to refereed or peer reviewed journals are examined by one or more people with expertise in the field with which the article deals. The purpose of this process is to give some assurance that the information in the article is valid. Ulrich's Periodicals Directory (log in using your last name and University ID) has a comprehensive alphabetical list of refereed serials.
    • Trade journals are serials that fall in between the categories of magazines and journals, but their focus includes more product and business information. Articles are written by staff or experts in the field for members of a specific business or organization; examples include Internet World, Advertising Age, Flying, Buttons, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, etc.
  • Government publications provide all types of information ranging from broad, general information to focused, contemporary information.
  • The Internet provides access to the full range of information types that are stored in networked computers around the world.

Finding Aids

Because of the overwhelming amount of information available today in a variety of different formats, you will need to identify methods of sorting through these resources in a timely manner to efficiently locate the information needed.

  • Internet Search Engines help you search the Internet for a specific topic. Using search engines such as Google to find information on the Internet is quite easy; however, sorting through the vast numbers of results to find resources that are useful is challenging. Sometimes, limiting searches to certain domains, such as ".edu" or ".gov" helps.

  • Databases and Indexes with abstracts, unlike search engines, most often contain citations to -- and in some cases the full text of -- articles published in periodicals. As such, most of these materials have gone through some type of editorial process for quality and organization and are displayed in ways that make the information easier to use.

  • Bibliographies are lists of citations or references pertaining to a particular subject. Bibliographies are often found at the end of a book or an article and contain the information needed to retrieve the sources used there. They are sometimes titled "Works Cited."


You will need to understand how to interpret the citations you find in databases and bibliographies and how to cite sources in your own bibliographies. Learn more about citations.


The Research Process - Tutorial

InfoHelp VISA: Virtual Information Skills Activity
Well-organized tutorial covering all stages of the research process. Provided by Queensland University of Technology, California State University and James Cook University.

Finding Information
Brief summary of research process and comparison of various types and sources of information. Provided by University of Illinois.

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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Last updated: July 14, 2009