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Finding Information

Gain an understanding of different information formats, including the ways they can be used in research.


This page was designed to help you:

  • Identify different information formats
  • Understand that different types of resources can be used for different purposes

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.

Further Reading

Learning Objectives

This page was designed to help you:

  • Identify different information formats
  • Understand that different types of resources can be used for different purposes


Icons by Noun Project: Reference by Justin Blake licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents reference, ebook by ProSymbols licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents books and ebooks, Newspaper by Kokota  licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents newspapers, Magazine by Diego Naive licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents academic journal, Academic Paper by Silviu Ojog licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents journal articles, Search Folder by Vectorstall licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents research databases, Library by GreenHill  licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents special collections materials, Thesis by Vectors Point licensed under CC BY 3.0 represents theses and dissertations