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Information Literacy Tutorial
Finding Information Resources
Encyclopedia articles give a broad overview and background
information. Each article, written by a subject specialist in the
field, provides an introduction to the subject and includes a
selective bibliography of books and articles on the subject. A general
encyclopedia is often the best place to start research
because it contains information on almost every subject. Specialized
encyclopedias are focused on specific subject fields.
Selected list of general encyclopedias
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Encyclopedia Americana
- World Book Encyclopedia
Examples of of specialized encyclopedias
- Encyclopedia of Religion
- Dictionary of American History
- Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance
To find a specialized encyclopedia in the Online Catalog
- Search by Keyword for Dictionaries and Your
subject or Encyclopedia and Your subject
Example: dictionaries and psychology
Books and Non-Print Media
Books are useful because they often give an in depth treatment of a
topic and provide a useful bibliography of references to additional
Nonprint media, such as DVDs, CDs, and streaming video, can be
used as sources of information or to enhance a speech or
Pfeiffer Library's online catalog of books and nonprint media is
available from the main page of the library website. The WorldCat
database, a national database of books in libraries, is available
under "Other Catalogs" in the search menu in our catalog, or from
our Research Databases page. We can easily send books between our
two campuses if the book you need is on the other campus - just
place a hold in th catalog. We can borrow books that we do not own
from other libraries via Interlibrary Loan - just click the
interlibrary loan link from the book's record in WorldCat, or place
your request via email or in person at the library. We will mail
books to distance education students, and we also have arrangements
for distance education students to use local university libraries.
- Periodicals are materials that are published at regular
intervals (monthly, quarterly, daily, etc.)
Periodical articles contain current information, which is
especially important in fields such as science, business,
psychology, and technology. Also, subjects too new or too
specialized to be covered by books are often covered by
magazines, journals, and newspapers.
Types of periodical articles
- Popular magazine - Popular magazines are written
for the general public with the purpose of informing and
entertaining. Newsweek, Time, and Ebony
are examples of popular magazines. Because of their easy
reading style, magazines may be a good starting point in
understanding a topic.
- Scholarly journal - Scholarly journals typically
have articles written by authorities in the field. They may
report research or provide a scholarly discussion of a
topic. They usually include bibliographies. For most college
level papers, you should rely more heavily on articles from
- Peer-reviewed (refereed) journals - Scholarly
journal articles are reviewed by experts on the topic before
being accepted for publication. Some scholarly journals do
not have a peer review process, but have an editorial board
that reviews articles to judge their quality before
acceptance for publication. Both peer review and editorial
board review are indicators of high quality.
- Newspaper - Newspapers provide accounts of current
events and can show trends of public opinion. Older issues
of newspapers provide a record of past ideas, problems, and
- Explanation of scholarly journals vs.
magazines (opens in new tab/window)
- Explanation of peer review process
Finding periodical articles on my topic
- Look in a research database. The most efficient way
to locate periodical articles on a topic is to use periodical
indexes or research databases. Be sure to choose an index or
database that covers your topic. Our research databases page
lists all of our databases both by subject and alphabetically.
- Look in the bibliography of an article or book. If
you already have a good article or book on your topic, the
easiest way to find additional articles is to look in the
Locating periodical articles
- Very often, an article will be available in full-text in the
database you are searching in - in other words, you can read
the article right there or print it out
- Check Journal Finder to see if Pfeiffer Library subscribes
to the periodical or to see if it is available online in a
different database. In most databases, you can check Journal
Finder by clicking "Check for full-text availability" or a
- If Pfeiffer Library does not provide access to the
periodical, you may order a copy through Interlibrary Loan.
Some databases have a link to request articles on Interlibrary
Loan next to the article information - if not, there is a form
on the library's website, and we accept requests via email or
in-person. Please provide the complete citation!
Print journals in the library do not circulate, but you may
make a photocopy for 10 cents a page, or scan the article to a
thumb drive for free. We will scan and send articles to distance
There may be times when you will need to find biographical
information about a person. The library has dozens of biographical
sources in the reference area. A researcher often doesn't know
which one will contain information on the person of interest.
In addition you may use the following techniques to find
- Biography Reference Center: As you might guess from
the name, this is an excellent database for finding biographical
- Biographical encyclopedias: The library has many print
sources for biographical articles.
- Look in a general encyclopedia for a brief
summary of the person's life.
- Do a subject search in the Pfeiffer Library catalog
to find whole books about him or her.
- Look in journal databases to find articles about the
A primary source is:
- an account by an eyewitness or the first recorder of an event,
in written or other form, including microform and electronic
reproduction. Examples are diaries, letters, minutes of
meetings, news footage, newspaper articles.
- data obtained through original research, statistical
compilations or legal requirements. Examples are reports of
scientific experiments, U.S. census records, public records.
- creative works such as poetry, music, or art.
- artifacts such as stone points, pottery, furniture, and
Secondary sources are works that interpret the primary
data, such as a book about eating disorders, a journal article
about the role of tobacco in colonial economy, or a critical
review of a play.
Selected List of Primary Sources:
- American Memory (Library of
- Diaries - Search the online catalog using the
keywords diary or diaries,
or the Subject heading personal narrative.
- Any poem, play, novel, or short story by the
person you need a primary source about
- Scientific research report - Check research
databases for the field of interest to find reports of
- Newspaper article about an event
- University Archives - Pfeiffer's
archives contain primary source material pertaining to
Pfeiffer's history. Many universities and museums are digitizing
their archives and putting them online, bringing all manner of
primary sources to you. Most of these can be found via a Google
search, or by asking a librarian.
A review is a critical evaluation. By reading reviews, you can
determine the quality of a book or movie.
Books are reviewed in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals.
Ordinarily a book will be reviewed within a year after it is
published, although it may be reviewed later. To find a book review,
you need to know the author, title, and date of publication.
Following are several sources for finding book reviews:
- Databases: General databases such as Academic Search Complete
contain many book reviews. Search for the title of the book and
the word "review", or limit the article type to book review in
the search options. For books pertaining to a particular
subject, you may also find reviews in relevant subject-specific
- Print review sources: The library has many print sources to
help locate reviews. These can be particularly helpful for
reviews of older books.
- Databases: General databases are useful for movie reviews as
well. Consider newspaper databases in particular.
- Internet Movie Database:
Reviews from newspapers, film magazines, and other Internet
© 2006 Carrier Library, James Madison
University. Used by permission.