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Sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies (SIS): SIS -2008:Science Fact or Science Fiction

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Choosing the Right Resources

Sometimes it's difficult to know which sources to choose for your research. Think critically about the various types of resources and decide which will be most useful or appropriate for your research. Here are some guidelines that may help:


Definition: Brief essays or reports in a in a "periodical," i.e. something published on a periodic basis like a scholarly journal, newspaper, magazine. etc. Periodicals generally fall into three categories:

  • popular  (Time Magazine, Newsweek, Men's Health)
    • Informational, aimed at the general public, written in plain language
    • Most articles do not have an identified author and/or are written by staff writers
    • Usually not peer reviewed
    • Very few if any footnotes or references
    • Usually for profit 
  • scholarly (Journal of Drug Issues, Bioethics, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment)
    • Report on research, often for audience with knowledge in the field
    • Written by experts or scholars in a field, names are often listed with credentials
    • Undergo peer review process by other scholars or experts in the field
    • Usually lists sources and/or footnotes
    • Usually not for profit
  • trade or professional journals (Advertising Age, Information Today, Publishers Weekly)
    • Written for members of a particular industry or trade
    • May look at industry trends or specific products
    • Written by staff writers or experts in a field, but not necessarily peer reviewed

Why Choose Articles?

  • Great sources for the most current or up-to-date information
  • Brief overview of topics
  • Sources for different aspects of a topic or specialized information
  • Material goes through publishing process so there is some accountability


Definition: Books can either be popular or scholarly; they can contain general information and/or overviews of a topic, or they can contain comprehensive, in-depth studies by experts.

Why Choose Books?

  • They can provide multiple viewpoints, particularly if each chapter is written by a different author. For example, a book of collected essays.
  • Can contain a broad overview on a particular topic, like an A-Z of everything you ever wanted to know on a particular topic.
  • Great sources of historical information. Great for topics that don't change much over time.
  • Some books, such as Reference Books, can provide basic background information, facts, statistics, or other quick look-up information.
  • Material goes through publishing process so there is some reliability or accountability.


Definition: Pages or collections of information on the web. Cover a variety of topics and resources, including commercial sites, scholarly or academic institutions, special interests, opinion sites, organization sites, etc.

Why Choose Websites?

  • Good sources of current information
  • Convenient source of material, particularly from educational websites and/or organizations, like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), PBS, Library of Congress, United Nations, Government Agencies, etc.
  • Some information can be reliable, although this takes more work on the reader's part.
  • Provides a wide range of medium for information, including sound, video, hyperlinked essays and documents, etc.

*Thank you to the University of St. Thomas, WSCU, Cornell, and University of Toronto for the information on this page.

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Sources






Original research or materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a secondary party. Reports of scientific discoveries, experiments, or clinical trials. These are factual and not interpretive.

Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source. Analyzes and interprets research results or scientific discoveries.

Information which is distillation of primary AND secondary sources


Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article, technical reports, and diaries

Review articles, magazine articles, books, laws and legislation, public opinion, and social policy.



-Published results of research studies, clinical studies, or scientific experiments

-Proceedings of conferences or meetings


-Publications about the significance of research or experiments.

-Analysis of a clinical trial

-Review of the results of experiments or trials

Almanacs, Bibliographies, Chronologies, Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Fact Books, Guidebooks, Manuals, and Textbooks.

Specific Examples

-Einstein’s diary

-Article in a scholarly journal reporting research and methodology

-Books about Einstein’s life

-Articles or books analyzing and commenting on the results of original research

-Dictionary on the Theory of Relativity

-Bibliography of resources in a particular field

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