Identifying Information Sources

There are so many different types of information on the Internet, it is sometimes difficult to identify what you see on the screen. Knowing the type of information you need or are hoping to find will help in accessing the information and using it appropriately. Review the broad categories below to help identify different types of information formats and publications.

Identifying Information Sources
Basic research tools
  • Library Catalogs - use to find location and holdings of books, periodicals and other material within libraries.
  • Article Databases - to find articles on specific subjects.  Especially useful in finding scholarly and academic journal articles.
  • Reference Resources - finding aids such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, almanacs, .etc.
  • Search Engines - use to find Websites and other Internet resources.
Different types of Web pages
  • Advocacy
  • News
  • Personal
  • Professional
  • Scholarly
Scholarly vs. Popular Publications

The terms, periodicals, serials, journals, and magazines can and often are used interchangeably.  This does not mean they are all the same.  Periodicals are publications that are printed; daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.  Serials are publications intended to be published indefinitely into the future.  Journals are generally held as being scholarly and authoritative, including references and citations.  Magazines are referred to as being popular publications and having less credibility.


  Scholarly Publication Popular Publication
Examples Nature, Cell, Journal of the American Medical Association Time, People, Sports Illustrated, New Yorker, Rolling Stone
Author A professional or expert in the field Journalists, students, popular authors, or maybe no author
Audience Specialized audience, has a broad knowledge or is able to understand specialized vocabulary presented General Public, or persons with basic vocabulary
Advertising Few and highly specialized pertaining to the publication topic High amounts of advertising for a broad range of products
Bibliography, Works Cited, Sources References listed at the end of each article, contains footnotes or endnotes Rarely includes references or works cited
Indexing Articles are listed in specialized databases and indexes Articles are listed in general databases and indexes
Level of Language Higher level of language, more scholarly and serious, vocabulary pertains and relates to discipline Simple, more broad language used to relate to a higher number of people, easier to understand
Purpose Discuss and display research, findings, trends and information in a scholarly manner More general interest, current events, gossip
Review Policy Peer reviewed. Editors are scholars in the field Editors or other magazine staff

If you would like to be sure that a publication is peer reviewed, you can look up the title in Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory. Just search the title and if it appears with the image of a referee jersey, that means that the title is peer-reviewed or refereed. 

Primary and Secondary sources
  • Primary sources: Primary sources are the original documents of an event or discovery such as results of research, experiments or surveys, interviews, letters, diaries, legal documents, and scientific journal articles.  Primary sources are also records of events as they are first described. These might be videotapes, audio recordings or eyewitness news reports.
  • Secondary sources: Secondary sources offer an analysis or a restatement of an event or discovery described in primary sources. They interpret, explain or summarize primary sources. Some secondary sources are used to persuade the reader. Secondary sources may be considered less objective.  Examples of secondary sources include: dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, articles and editorials that interpret or review research works.
Files, Formats, and Media on the Web
  • html - all web pages are developed using HTML, although each basic page may contain links to many other types of files including graphics, java, video, etc. The file extension may be .htm or .html, for a web page.
  • audio - real audio, .wav, .au and .mp3 are the most common audio file types.
  • video - real player and shockwave are common video and multimedia viewers
  • graphics - .PDF, .GIF, .JPG, and animated GIF files are the most common types of graphics files on the Web.
  • text - many types of word processing files, spreadsheets, databases, and hypertext can be seen on the Web or easily translated to HTML.
    Common text file types include
    • .txt - for plain ascii text files that can be used in any word processor or read in a Web browser. 
    • .doc for Microsoft Word files
    • .wpd for Word Perfect files
    • .pdf for Adobe Acrobat files usually viewed on the Web with the Acrobat reader, these are really graphic representations of text
  • other Internet Protocols - Many other resources using protocols other than http may all be retrieved via a Web browser

It is important to decide on the type of information or media  you need before you start looking, and to know what type of information or media you are viewing as you critically evaluate it.