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Choose the Right Tool

This LibGuide will help you select the best types sources of information for your research. Whether it is books, magazine or journal articles, websites, government publications, or other sources, each has reasons to use them.

Evaluating Websites

 According to the University of Maryland Libraries,

Traditionally, students setting out to write research papers could trust that the library materials they use are not unduly biased. An academic library's print, nonprint and electronic resources have been edited and checked for accuracy by scholarly organizations and publishers, then carefully evaluated by professional librarians for inclusion into the library's collection.

The information found on the World Wide Web has added a new dimension to selecting resources. Anyone can create a Web site. No one has evaluated the quality or accuracy of the information found on the Web before you come across it. Some Web sites are created by subject experts ....  However, the vast majority of Web sites are created by non-experts.

 

The Information Timeline

The information timeline can help you determine which types of sources to look for based on the type and depth of information you need: Once you know which type of sources you want to look for, you can more efficiently decide where you need to look.

As an event develops, information about it is generated and disseminated. The first reports show up on the Internet, television, and radio. First reports usually focus on the quick facts: who, what, where. As time passes, information filters through different types of resources, with the level of coverage increasing and becoming much more detailed and analytical.

arrows and text describe information timeline

Day Of: Social Media, Internet, TV
  • Breaking information
  • Can be inaccurate, incomplete, biased, and highly emotional
Week Of and Week(s) After: Newspapers 
  • More detailed and factual reporting
  • Quotes from experts, statistics, and/or photographs
  • Written by journalists for general audience (not scholarly)
  • Opinion pieces begin to appear 
Week(s) After: Popular Magazines
  • More detailed reporting including interviews, opinions, and analysis
  • Authors are diverse: professional journalists, commentators, scholars, or experts in the field
  • Factual information BUT can have bias reflecting the publication
Months After: Scholarly Journals
  • Detailed analysis backed by evidence-based research
  • Peer-reviewed which helps ensure accuracy and quality
  • Detailed bibliographies
  • Written by experts and scholars in the field
  • Written for a specific audience (scholars) - can be difficult to understand because of discipline-specific language or jargon
A Year After: Books
  • In-depth coverage often providing comprehensive overviews of topic
  • Detailed bibliographies
  • May have bias as authors' credentials and authority can vary 
  • Can be scholarly (detailed analysis) or popular (general discussion)
Years After: Reference Books
  • Factual information written with little emotion 
  • Authors are scholars and/or experts
  • Broad coverage of a topic