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Types of Information Sources: Home

Understanding when to use books, articles, websites, statistics, more!


Different formats of information are useful for different kinds of projects. This is a quick overview of when, how, and where to find those information sources.

Web Searching

If all the information bases are covered elsewhere, why would you use websites? In some situations, you can get similar information from the web as you can from books, articles and statistics sources.

Web searching is a useful first step in determining good search words and basic information about your topic.

Ask a Librarian


Everybody know what a book is and what it is used for, right? But it is good to understand when a book is useful for a research project and when it may not be.

Books may useful when:

  • You need a broad overview
    There are times when you want someone to explain everything to you - beginning to end. Books are very appropriate for this.
    Example: An overview of the legal, moral and medical issues surrounding right-to-die
  • Your research topic is historical
    Books lend themselves to topics in which the facts don't change much over time.
    Example: A detailed account of the development of the civil rights movement in the United States
  • You want several opinions from one place
    You will find there are books with "collected essays" that will give you several points of view in one compact source.
    Example: Commentary and criticism on Shakespeare's Hamlet

Books may not useful when:

  • The topic is very recent
    Books take an awfully long time (years!) to get published, purchased and put on library shelves. If the issue you are researching is constantly changing, a book may be outdated by the time it arrives in the library.
    Example: The latest information about the parental consent debate for underage abortions
  • You have a fairly narrow topic
    Sometimes books just cover too much and offer too many perspectives.
    Example: The theme of isolation and desperation in Charlotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"

One of the best ways to determine if you need books or not is to discuss your topic with a reference librarian!

Magazine, Journal, and Newspaper Articles

So books are useful for overviews, histories, and collected information. What are articles useful for?

Articles may be useful when:

  • Your topic is very recent
    Articles, especially in newspapers and magazines, are intended to keep people up-to-date on the latest development in various issues, so they are very useful if you are tracking new developments and progress of a topic.
    Example: The most recent debate and developments surrounding the issue of gay marriage and civil unions
  • Your topic is very narrow in scope
    Sometimes you are interested in something so specific that there will not be whole books written about the topic!
    Example: The correlation of SAT scores to college success in the tri-state area

Articles may not be useful when:

  • You need background or overview information
    You cannot trace the whole history of an issue in one magazine or journal article!
    Example: Causes of the civil war in the United States
  • Your topic covers a long time span
    When something has a long history, you may only find one aspect discussed in a magazine or journal article
    Example: The impact of Brown vs. Board of Education on the public school system in the US

As with books, consult a reference librarian for assistance!



Often when making an argument, you may need to back it up with cold, hard facts, like statistics.

Here are some examples of topics when seeking and analyzing statistics are useful:

  • Criminal justice
    Example: How many drug-related crimes were committed in 2003-2004?
  • Education
    Example: How many first-generation college students graduated from state institutions in the last 10 years?
  • Economics and socioeconomics
    Example: How many people live below the poverty line in major metropolitan areas?
  • Social behaviors
    Example: How many teenagers smoke?
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