Types of Information Sources

Section 1 – Types of Information Sources

With all the information available, not only in print but on the World Wide Web, where do you begin to look?  Information literacy is knowing why, when, and how to use different types of sources and how to pick the best sources for your needs. 

Information can come from virtually anywhere.  The type of information you need depends on the question you are trying to answer. 


Magazines publish articles on topics of interest and current events.  The articles are written by journalists and are for the general public.  Magazines, like journals and newspapers, are called “periodicals” because they are published at regular intervals throughout the year.  You can find magazines at newsstands and in libraries.  Some are now available on the Web as electronic magazines. 

Use a magazine…

  • to find information or opinions about popular culture
  • to find up-to-date information about current events
  • to find general articles written for people who are not necessarily specialists in the topic area

Some examples of magazines are…

  • Newsweek
  • World Magazine
  • Christianity Today
  • Guideposts
  • Charisma


Journal articles are written by scholars in an academic or professional field.  An editorial board reviews articles to decide whether they should be published.  Journal articles may cover very specific topics or narrow fields of research. 

Since journals are published at periodic intervals, they also are grouped in the category called “periodicals.”  They may be in print format or on the Web as electronic journals.  The Global University Library purchases subscriptions to many journals.  Some journals are also available free on the Web.

Use a journal…

  • when doing scholarly research
  • to find out what has been studied on your topic
  • to find bibliographies that point to other relevant research

Some examples of journals are…

  • Cambridge Journal of Education
  • Africa Theological Journal
  • Review of Biblical Literature
  • Journal of Biblical Counseling


Newspapers provide articles each day about current events and are a good source for local information.  Newspapers, like journals and magazines, are called “periodicals” because they are published regularly, or periodically.

You can find newspapers in print or on the Web as electronic newspapers.  Many newspapers have their own Web sites with current news, and sometimes they provide access to earlier articles for free.

Use a newspaper…

  • to find current information about international, national and local events
  • to find editorials, commentaries, expert or popular opinions

Some examples of newspapers are…

  • New York Times
  • Springfield News-Leader
  • Le Monde
  • Al-Ahram Weekly


Books cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction.  For research purposes, you will probably want to look for books that summarize all the information on your topic.  Libraries organize and store their book collection on shelves called “stacks.”  A few books are now available electronically on the Web (e-books). 

Use a book…

  • when looking for a lot of information on a topic
  • to put your topic in context with other important issues
  • to find historical information
  • to find summaries of research to support an argument

Some examples of books are…

  • Oates, Wayne. The Bible in Pastoral Care, 1953.
  • Sisk, Ronald D. The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well, 2005.
  • Trask, Thomas E., Wayde I. Goodall, and Zenas J. Bicket.  The Pentecostal Pastor: A Mandate for the 21st Century, 1997.

Library Catalog

The library catalog identifies every item in the library and will point you to its location.  Most library catalogs include books, journals, magazines, newspapers, videos, music, government documents, images, and more.  However, you won’t find periodical articles by subject in the library catalog.  You will need to use an article index such as Academic Search Elite or ATLA Religion. 

Use the library catalog…

  • to find what books, etc. the library owns on your topic
  • to find where a specific item is located in the library


Encyclopedias contain factual articles on many subjects.  There are two types of encyclopedias—general encyclopedias and subject encyclopedias.  General encyclopedias provide overviews on a wide variety of topics.  Subject encyclopedias contain entries focusing on one field of study.  Many encyclopedias are now available online as well as in print.

Use an encyclopedia…

  • when looking for background information on a topic
  • when trying to find key ideas, important dates or concepts

Some examples of encyclopedias are…

  • Britannica
  • Encyclopedia Judaica
  • The Encyclopedia of Religion

Article Indexes

Article indexes (also called periodical indexes) include the citations of articles in magazines, journals and newspapers.  Some article indexes contain abstracts (brief summaries) of the articles.  Many now contain the full text of the article.  Online article indexes, purchased by the Global University Library, are accessible from the library Web site. 

Use and article index…

  • when you want to find articles on your topic in magazines, journals or newspapers

Some examples of article indexes are…

  • Academic Search Elite
  • ATLA Religion with ATLASerials
  • ERIC
  • Librarian’s Internet Index

World Wide Web

The Web allows you to access information on the Internet through a browser.  One of the main features of the Web is the ability to link quickly to other related information. 

Use the Web…

  • to find current information
  • to link to information provided by the library over the Internet
  • to find information about companies
  • to find information from all levels of government—federal to local
  • to find both expert and popular opinions

Some examples of web addresses are…

Selecting Sources

Now that you know the wide range of sources available to you, how do you select the best one for your research? 

If you need…

Background information, such as the history of Christianity...   You might try: Books                    

Popular articles about new church plantings or trends in worship...   You might try: Magazines

Current information about a speech at a convention or conference...   You might try: Newspapers or the web

Scholarly articles about eschatology or church growth philosophy...   You might try: Journals   

Start with the Library

Library resources are free.

Libraries purchase copies of materials which can be shared by many people.  Libraries also purchase subscriptions to electronic databases which are free to the library users. 

Library resources are organized.

Items are organized so you can find all the sources on a topic.  For example, when you search for a book in the library catalog you will get a call number.  The books shelved nearby will cover a similar topic.

Library resources go through a review process.

They’ve been checked by an editor or peer-reviewed, then selected by librarians—whether books, magazines, journals, or online databases.  The library collects resources considered reliable, historically relevant, and valuable.

Library resources are meant to be kept permanently.

A primary function of a library is to store information published throughout time.  As well as finding very current information, you can also find books that are no longer published and older issues of magazines.

Library resources come with personal assistance.

Libraries have staff trained to help you find what you need.

The Library: Quality over Quantity

Libraries have large collections of information on a variety of carefully selected and organized topics.  The key idea when using the library is that you are getting quality over quantity.  You can efficiently find high quality information from a variety of credible resources in the library.

Searching the Web

Although many people first go to the Web for information, it is not always the best place for what you need.

Most information on the Web does not go through a review process.

Anyone can publish on the Web without passing the content through an editor.  Pages might be written by an expert on the topic, a journalist, a disgruntled consumer or even a child.

Information on the Web is not organized.

Some directory services, like Yahoo, provide links to sites in subject lists.  But there are too many Web pages for any single directory service to organize and index.

Most information on the Web is not comprehensive.

Rarely will you be able to use a search engine on the Web to collect information about your topic from earlier decades and different types of sources. 

Most information on the Web is not permanent.

Some well-maintained sites are updated with very current information, but others may be dated or disappear altogether without notice.

Some information on the Web is not free.

Many pages are free, but some commercial sites will charge a fee to access their information.

The Web can be a good research source for:

  • learning more about companies and organizations
  • information from government agencies
  • finding quick facts
  • catching up with current news
  • gathering opinions of people
  • And connecting to library resources

The Web is a good tool for finding information, but it is usually not the best place to begin academic research.

Think you know this stuff?  Let’s find out.

Each word or phrase below describes either the Web or the Library.  Decide which answer you think is best without looking at the answer key below.

1.  Call Numbers  (Web? or Library?)                                                                 

2.  Latest News  (Web? or Library?)                                                                 

3.  Quantity over Quality (Web? or Library?)                                                              

4.  Part of the Internet  (Web? or Library?)                                                                   

5.  Organized  (Web? or Library?)                                                                  

6.  No review process  (Web? or Library?)                                                              

7.  Starting place for research  (Web? or Library?)                                                                   

8.  Search engines  (Web? or Library?)                                                              

9.  Comes with assistance  (Web? or Library?)                                                                   

All right!  You’ve completed the first section—Types of Information Sources—and should be able to…

  • identify a variety of information sources
  • identify characteristics of information on the Web
  • identify characteristics of library resources


Answer key: 1 – Library; 2 – Web; 3 – Web; 4 – Web; 5 – Library; 6 – Web; 7 – Library; 8 – Web; 9 – Library



1.  The term “information literacy” is  (choose one)           

            a.  Learning to read

            b.  Becoming a savvy user of information

            c.  A library service

            d.  A magazine

2.  Does each statement best describe information in the library or information on the
     Web?  (choose one answer for each section)

            a.  Information is not organized.   (Library) (Web)                                          

            b.  Information is selected through a review process    (Library) (Web)             

            c.  Information is in a permanent collection.     (Library) (Web)                 

3.  Why would you use a periodical index?  (choose one)

            a.  To check your mail

            b.  To search the Web

            c.  To find citations to articles on a topic

            d.  To search for materials available at a specific library

4.  The latest news can be found using this source.  (choose one)

            a.  Journals

            b.  Library catalog

            c.  Web

            d.  Magazines

5.  Who publishes information on the Web?  (choose all that apply)

            a.  Students

            b.  Faculty

            c.  People in foreign countries

            d.  Libraries

            e.  Government agencies

            f.  Universities

            g.  Companies

            h.  Non-profit organizations


Answer key:

            1.  The correct response is B.  Information literacy is one of life’s most important skills.

            2.  a.  The Web has a lot of information that’s pretty unorganized.

                 b.  Editors, reviewers and librarians all review materials collected by the library.

                 c.  Libraries collect information from previous decades and centuries. They keep it permanently for people to refer back to.

            3.  The correct response is C.  You would find citations and often abstracts of articles.  Sometimes the full text of articles is also available.

            4.  C is the right answer.  Breaking news can be found on the Web.

            5.  You should have chosen them all.  All sorts of people publish on the Web.

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