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ENVS 0110 Humans, Nature, and the Environment: Addressing Environmental Change in the 21st Century

Course guide for Humans, Nature, and the Environment: Addressing Environmental Change in the 21st Century

Types of Resources

undefinedReference works

A range of material that can be general or focused on a single topic. They’re great for quick consultation and can help give you the background you need to begin your research. They include:

  • Almanacs and yearbooks (data, numbers, or facts on a specific topic)
  • Bibliographies (recommended readings on a certain topic)
  • Dictionaries and glossaries (meanings of terms and concepts, often within a specific field)
  • Encyclopedias (concise description of a topic)
  • Handbooks (overview of academic research on a topic)
  • Geographical sources (materials such as maps, atlases, bibliographies, and more)
  • Manuals (how-to guides to research methods)


undefinedBooks and Ebooks

Long format resources that provide comprehensive information on a topic. Books are critical resources for studying the humanities in particular, and they offer important in-depth context for topics across the social sciences and sciences as well. Academic libraries contain both fiction (works of the imagination) to be analyzed, as well as non-fiction (fact-based works). Because there is usually a long amount of time between writing and publishing, books are not a good source for the most current information. Types of books include:

  • Monographs (single topic, often single author)
  • Series (multiple volumes published over time on a specific topics or area of study)
  • Anthologies (collections of content on a single topic)
  • Textbooks (contain facts, theories, and knowledge on a particular subject)



International, national, and local coverage of issues and events for a particular region, often with a distinct editorial perspective. Newspapers are important resources for current information, personal accounts, opinions on issues, and coverage of popular topics in a given community.



A collection of articles within a particular subject area that are published regularly. The frequency of publication can be an indicator of how current the information is. Journals are more up to date than books and are a good place to find the latest research on a subject. In general, journals assign a volume number to indicate each year and an issue number for each publication during that year.  Journals contain articles written by different authors. Journals may be popular, scholarly, or trade oriented.



Articles are typically reviews or research papers written by academics or other experts on a given topic. They are most often peer-reviewed, which means that other experts have rigorously reviewed the content to ensure that it is valid. Articles provide details on research and often include methods and results. Journal articles examine more specific topics and are excellent to use for in-depth research.


undefinedResearch databases

Collections of information in a searchable format. This where you find journal articles. Each Library database has a specific content focus and offers the ability to fine-tune search results. These specialized, scholarly resources are often licensed by the University for your use. In order to access many of these resources you must be logged into Shibboleth with your Brown login credentials.


undefinedSpecial Collections, Manuscripts, and Archives

Unique items that were created or collected that provide evidence of a time or process. These materials are typically used as primary sources.


undefinedTheses and Dissertations

Significant research projects that are submitted for academic degrees. Dissertations are completed for doctoral degrees, and theses are completed for masters degrees and some bachelor degrees. The work reflects new scholarship on a topic. Dissertations are available from universities around the world. These are often lengthy, detailed works on a focused topic.


Choosing Types of Resources

When you are getting started with your research, think about what it is that you need to know next before you can move forward with your research.


Here is an example of the decision making steps to find the type of information resource for the research need:

The topic is new to me and I want to find background information: Reference materials are a great place to start your research.

The topic has been in the news and I want to find out more: Consider finding a newspaper article that references an expert or research study. You can then search for that information in a database.

I know about the topic and want to find academic scholarship that has been published recently: Research databases contain articles form scholarly journals, including the most current research.

What are databases?

There are many types of databases that you can use for your research. The database you choose will depend on what type of information you want to find. 

Research databases, such as JSTOR and Academic Search Premier, uncover the world of scholarly information. Most of the content in these databases is only available through the library. The complete list of databases is on the Databases A-Z list. The Library has purchased access to hundreds of databases on your behalf. There is no charge to use these resources.


Search Engines 

Defining scope:

 Indexes the web which provides way to find information on any topic

Scope of information: Search engines, such as Google, make finding general information on pretty much any topic fairly easy. You may get millions of results for a search, with only the first 10 readily visible
Narrow your search: 

Ability to focus a search on a type of consumer-oriented content, such as news, shopping, and images

Information strengths: Information from organizations, including reports, white papers, and company information
Evaluating content: Since anyone can share information online, you have to carefully check any information that you may want to use in your academic work.


Research Databases

Defining scope: Highly organized information that allows you to find information with high relevance to search terms
Scope of information: Collections of information that are organized by subject, theme, genre, language, and other factors
Narrow your search:  Robust tools allow you to narrow efficiently by dozens of categories
Information strengths: Primary and secondary sources in an array of formats including journal articles, ebooks, historical documents, videos, music, images, data, and newspapers. 
Evaluating content: Verified, often peer-reviewed, high-quality content from carefully selected sources


Let us search for the same thing in Google and in a general academic database called Academic Search Premier.

Search for the impact of social media on teenagers


Results in Google

Screenshot of search in Google for "impact of social media on teenagers"

Notes about these results in Google:

  • 81,500,000 results
  • Advertisements are the first two results
  • Highlighted article with images from a high school
  • Ability to quickly sort based on top Google categories: News, Images, Videos, Shopping



Search results in Academic Search Premier

Screenshot of search of Academic Search Premier database for "impact of social media on teenagers"

Notes about these results in the Academic Search Premier database:

  • 10 results
  • 3 are from academic journals
  • Able to quickly sort by scholarly qualification and publication date