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Learn the Library

This guide will introduce you how to use the library to do basic research.

What is out there?

The library has Research Guides for all disciplines and even for many classes! Spend time exploring the Research Guide related to your subject. It will give links to many resources for your research.There are many different resources that can help at different points of your work. Would it be best to start looking for books, journal articles, or others? Do you need scholarly or popular materials? Has your instructor asked for "peer-reviewed" articles? 

Starting your research, think about what it is that you need to know next before you can move forward with your research. For example, reference materials are a great place to start your research. Topics recently in the news can be found in newspaper articles which in most of the time include cited reference experts or study. Already knowing more about a topic, you can directly search databases containing articles from scholarly journals, etc.

Types of Sources

Books provide comprehensive information on a topic and offer important in-depth context for topics across disciplines. They 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)

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)

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. Newspapers contain very up-to-date information by covering the latest events and trends. Newspapers publish both factual information and opinion-based articles. 

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.

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.

Magazines offer:

  • shorter topical articles
  • appeal to the general public
  • glossy pictures and graphics
  • often no references

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.

Trade Publications offer:

  • news and reports, forecasts, and reviews from a specific industry or profession
  • may provide highly specialized information and statistics
  • frequently used in areas like business and law

Conference proceedings are oral presentations, posters and papers on a specific topic, often related to a professional or personal interest association. Conference proceedings are often scholarly in nature, but not always. It is common for research results to be in-progress or not yet completed.

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. Dissertations are available from universities around the world. These are often lengthy, detailed works on a focused topic.

Social Media offers a place where information is shared, curated, and disseminated by experts, scholars and laypersons. Almost anyone with an internet connection can participate in social media, and can participate in sharing thoughts and opinions through forums, chats, direct messages, photos, videos, "liking", re-tweeting etc. Issues with social media include: digital divide, censorship, bias, accuracy and authority of information, privacy in exchange for participation, and author credit (re-tweeting versus copying and pasting). 

Scholarly or Popular

Scholarly Popular
  • Written by experts
  • Audience: researchers and professionals
  • Writing details research and research process
  • Work contains a list of references and citations
  • Examples: Journal of Food Science, Journal of Applied Psychology 
  • Written by journalists
  • Audience: nonprofessional an/or general public
  • Briefly discusses or explains a study or research, does not go in depth
  • Covers news and general interest topics
  • No bibliography or citation
  • Examples: New York Times, People, The Economist


Peer Review Trade Publications / Experts
  • A sober second look
  • Expert findings and research evaluated in a review process
  • Covers methodology and theory of research projects
  • Useful for most academic areas
  • Not always found in fields like Business, Education, Law
  • Includes: citation, references, bibliography
  • No advertisements and few images
  • Audience: members of a specific business, industry or organization
  • Authored by experts, staff writers and journalists
  • Expert practitioner findings considered scholarly in some disciplines
  • Highlights industry trends, new products, organizational news
  • Usually includes editorial review
  • May have short bibliographies


You may be asked to consult a peer-reviewed journal or use refereed papers for your assignments. Not all scholarly journals participate in a peer-review process, which is a way publishers ensure articles meet the standards of their journal. A peer reviewed paper is submitted and a panel of experts (often calls go out to individuals in the field) read and critique the piece. Any suggestions, errors, omissions or problematic aspects identified by the reviewers are provided in comments to the authors and a paper is either rejected, accepted, or accepted with revisions. To avoid bias, peer-review is done best in a blinded way so that both the author and the peer-reviewers have their personal and institutional information stripped so that it is unknown who either party is.  

To determine if a journal participates in peer-review, check the "About" or "Information for Authors" sections where that will be explained. It is common for peer-reviewed journals to have certain categories where peer-review occurs (research and review papers ets), and others (like letters, opinion, product summaries etc) where it doesn't. You can also use the Ulrich database to get a quick sense as to whether a journal is refereed. 

What is background research?

When starting to write on a new topic, you may need to learn basic information about the topic to get started.

Wikipedia and Google are common first steps, but the library also provides many encyclopedias and dictionaries which can often be more reliable and authoritative.

Explore these resources in more depth at the Reference Tools guide.