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A Guide to the Research Process

Books vs. Articles

If your assignment requires the use of books and journal articles, you might be wondering when it is appropriate to consult a book instead of an article, or vice versa. 

Books are useful when you are seeking...

  • a broad overview of a particular topic (ex: the life of Marilyn Monroe)
  • historical information (ex: information about the Renaissance)
  • detailed accounts of certain events (ex: the Clinton presidency)
  • authoritative information

Articles are useful when you are seeking...

  • information on a fairly recent topic
  • information within a specific discipline
  • original research 
  • peer-reviewed research

Choosing a Database - General

General Databases should be used when researching:

  • any topic that is multi-disciplinary
  • any topic that doesn't have a clear discipline
  • general topics
  • for browsing when you are just beginning your research

Choosing a Database - Subject Specific

Subject Specific Databases should be used when researching:

  • topics within a set discipline
  • specific and in-depth topics
  • for finding more obscure information

Scholarly vs. Popular





Written by academics, professors and experts. The author’s credentials are usually provided.

Written by journalists, professional writers, or bloggers. The authors' credentials are not readily apparent.


Professionals, professors, college and graduate students

Everyday people


More difficult language and jargon

Written to be easily understandable to a wide audience


Citations and a bibliography or works cited page will be provided

Usually without citations


No advertisements,  no or few images

Colorful images and advertisements present


Databases such as Academic Search Complete, PsycINFO, ERIC, and JSTOR

Websites, blogs, newspapers. These can also found in databases such as Lexis Nexis Academic, Newspaper Source, and MagPortal

Publication Examples

Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Journal of School Nursing, Contemporary Justice Review

The New Yorker, Time Magazine,, Huffington Post

Peer-Review Process

Scholarly Journals only publish articles after they have gone through a peer-review process where other experts in the field confirm the accuracy of research methodology and findings.

Popular Journals do not use a peer-review process.

Primary vs. Secondary

Primary Source: In scholarship, a document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic, used in preparing a derivative work. Primary sources include original manuscripts, periodical articles reporting original research or thought, diaries, memoirs, letters, journals, photographs, drawings, posters, film footage, sheet music, songs, interviews, government documents, public records, eyewitness accounts, newspaper clippings, etc 

Secondary Source: Any published or unpublished work that is one step removed from the original source, usually describing, summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, derived from, or based on primary source materials, for example, a review, critical analysis, second-person account, or biographical or historical study. Also refers to material other than primary sources used in the preparation of a written work.




Art and Art History

An original painting

An exhibition catalogue


A research study and report on marine life

A scholarly article that discusses the latest findings in marine life biology


NASDAQ stock quote

Stock analysis news report


A lesson plan for children with Autism

A book on the topic of teaching to kids with autism


Moby Dick

A biography of Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick)


Declaration of Independence  (1776)

A Book on the Founding Fathers


A musical score for the Opera

A review of the opera

Nursing and Social Work

A research study on a particular population

A magazine article on that analyzes the study

Definitions found in Reitz, Joan M. Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. (2013). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.