Author Archives: profpayne

Finding, citing & evaluating general web sources: finding

In this reading, we’ll look at what I call the general web.  Basically, the general web can be described as what your instructors mean when they say:  “no internet.”  (Note:  some instructors include scholarly search engines in the “no internet” category – ask before using Google Scholar or PubMed.)

We’ve already looked at other web-based resources:  these include library databases such as Academic Search Ultimate, plus many subject specific databases.  You can think of library databases as specialized search engines.  Library catalogs are another kind of specialized search engine.  Our library catalog tells you what physical items the library owns:    books, CDs, DVDs, etc. ) We’v also used OneSearch, the library’s new easy search system, which searches Stewart Library’s catalog, and most of its library databases  from a Google-like interface.  It also allows you to search materials from other libraries and universities.

In this reading, we’re going to look at the general web, focusing on  how to find good information, how to give credit for the information you use, ways you can use Wikipedia, what to avoid and how to  decide what to avoid.

Instructors say “no internet” because they know that the quality of information on the web varies wildly from excellent (rare) to horrible (common.)  The easy way to avoid these issues with quality is to use a  library databases or  Google Scholar.

Instructors also know that  it’s very easy to accidentally plagiarize when you use general web sources.   If the source you use  plagiarized, then you have plagiarized too.   Sometimes the problem goes back several layers.  For example: the original author plagiarized, either accidentally or on purpose.  The next people to use that post are guilty of plagiarism even if they give credit properly and so are you because you are continuing the act of plagiarism.  The fact that you did it accidentally may or may not help – it depends on your instructor.

However, the biggest issue with sources from the general web is figuring out what type of source you have.  If you don’t know the type of source, you won’t be able to determine if it’s an acceptable for your assignment.   Library catalogs, library databases, and (to some extent) scholarly search engines, identify the type of source and OneSearch lets you limit to a specific type of source.  Outside of news sites, it’s rare for a general web source to clearly identify its type.  You need to be able to distinguish a news article from a blog from a personal webpage from a term paper mill (Avoid the temptation to buy a research paper.  You might not get caught buying the paper, but you will get nailed for plagiarizing.)

Despite all of these issues, there are still  excellent sources available on the general web.   The problem is a.) finding them,  b.) figuring out what kind of source it is so you c.) can determine if it’s acceptable for your research and d. cite it properly.

There are several things you can do to increase your chances of finding good sources.

Make sure your instructor lets you use the general web to find sources before using them in an assignment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

  1. Do a good search
    1. Try typing in your research question first.
    2.  If you’re not finding much or you have to go to the third page (or more) of results without finding much, try different combinations of keywords and key phrases. Keep a list of keywords and key phrases that work: you can often use them for library databases, too.
    3. Play around with keywords and key phrases until you have a search that finds the information you need .  Because Google searches  so many websites,  the more specific you can be, the better.  This is true for Bing and other search engines.
    4. Limit your search to the types of websites that are more likely to have high quality information by using a domain search.  .Com, .tv, .edu are all domains.  Country codes are the domains for a specific country (us = United States, uk = United Kingdom, mx = mexico, ru = Russian Federation.)
      1. Education (.edu) – especially sites associated with libraries and colleges.  (The U.K. equivalent of .edu is, Australia:; Canada and Mexico usually just use country codes:  .ca, .mx).  CAUTION:  be sure that you’re not using student work.
      2. Government (.gov, .mil, etc.)  – These sites can be an excellent source of statistics and other primary sources.
      3. Organization (.org) – these include professional associations, foundations, special interest groups, museums, etc.  Many of these groups provide high quality popular information on subjects such as controlling or living with specific medical conditions, information on requirements for a certain profession, etc.
    5. You can limit a search to a specific a domain several ways.
      1. Use the advanced search feature for the search engine you are using.
        1. For Google:
          1.   Type in  Look at the bottom of the screen.  On the far right, click on “Settings”  Click on “Advanced Search.”
          2.   If you don’t see “Settings” in the bottom right corner, look for the grid symbol in the top right corner.  Click on it.  Click on  “Search,”  you should then  “Settings” in the bottom right corner.  Click on it, then click on “Advanced Search.”
          3.   Memorize/bookmark this link:  you can also just type:
        2. For Bing:  Bing no longer has an advanced search menu – you’ll need to use site:  (see following)
      2. Type in your search followed by:  site:edu (or site:org, site:gov, etc.).
        1. Example:  searching using one domain name:  Athena AND Apollo site:edu
        2. Example:  searching using two domain names:  Jupiter  (or wildcats
  2. Use a web page, do not use an entire website.
    1. Use entire websites only when you are studying website design or a similar subject where you look at the site as a whole.
  3. Make sure the web page has enough information.
    1. In general, a web page should have a least 300 words of continuous text on the same subject.  Do a print preview.  If you have close to a page of information, you should be okay.
    2. No tables of content, no paragraphs linking to a full article (use the full article,) no lists of links with (or without) brief descriptions.
  4. Look at scholarly sites for scholarly information.
    1. It’s usually easiest to use library article databases or scholarly search engines to find scholarly information; however,  there are some good   scholarly web sources.
    2.  Sites such as those produced by libraries, museums and universities are frequently excellent.
      1.  For example:,,, and
      2. Remember that education sites often include student papers.  These are not considered scholarly sources.  Look for online links to papers by professors.  Papers by graduate students may be acceptable – check with your instructor to be sure.
      3. If you find a good student site that includes a reference list, check it for scholarly sources that might be useful.
  5. Look at popular sites for popular information.
    1. The great majority of general web sites are popular
    2. Look for high quality popular sites
      1. Reputable news sources such as CNN, the New York Times, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News,  National Geographic is a good quality popular source.  The Smithsonian  has both scholarly  (click on Researchers at the top right) and good quality popular sources – the scholarly sources are usually more focused and contain data.  PBS and the BBC both have excellent information on many topics.  Check out: (we have the DVD),
      2. Associations, foundations, special interest groups and other organizations
        1. These sites often show bias.
          1.  This is okay as long as you deal with that issue in your paper – in other words, you basically evaluate the site within your paper and explain why the information is valuable despite a clear bias.
          2.  OR find a web site supporting the opposite view and compare and contrast the information found in each.  For example: and
          3. Some associations focus on providing useful information and raising money for research:
  6. Find primary sources
    1. The internet can be a great place to find good statistics, especially from government sources:, .  Many foreign governments have pages in English:,
    2.  Adapted sources such as photographs of art objects, old newsreels, digitized letters and journals, original works and translations of authors. etc.
      1. For example:,,,,
      2. Remember, you need to use information from reputable websites.
        1. NOTE:  while most primary source websites are free of advertising, there are some good ones, such as American Rhetoric, that use ads to pay for computer storage and the like.  A librarian or your instructor can help you decide if websites with advertising have good primary sources.  You can also google for reviews of the website.
    3. USE carefully:  Tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts,  user produced information such as iReport on CNN, personal YouTube videos, etc. Twitter can be used as a primary source that shows people’s reactions to a specific event, but not for much of anything else.  You can also get this type of information from the comments section of online news organizations.  Some blog posts, personal youtube videos, etc. can be good sources, but you will need to prove this to your instructor.

That leaves us with the big question – how do you tell what type of source you have?

  1. Determine the format of the source.  This is often the easiest way to determine the type of source you’re looking at.  For example:
    1. Most blogs have the word “blog” somewhere on the page.  If not, check for blogging platforms such as Blogspot,Typepad and, of course, WordPress.
      1. The class blog doesn’t say blog because I bought a domain name (  to make it easier to find.
      2. If you see a format like the class site – with entries and information in side columns – you very likely have a blog.
    2. The wiki format of Wikipedia is easy to spot – remember there are other wikis out there besides Wikipedia.  One to check out is Wikimedia Commons, which has images, sounds and videos freely available.  Most are public domain.
    3. If you see a number of short entries and a little blue bird, it’s probably a tweet.  Other social media, such as Facebook, are usually easy to identify as well.
    4. Other formats, such as PowerPoint, videos, and PDF or Word documents have an obvious format, but the purpose is always not as obvious.

USE COMMONSENSE!   This is a big one.  If you find a web page on your topic, but all you see is a summary in English, text in what appears to be cuneiform, and lines of dancing hamsters, this is not a good site to use for an academic assignment.  Dancing hamsters are pretty much always a sign that you should avoid that web page when doing academic research – unless the web page is an academic paper discussing the phenomenon of dancing hamsters. (Don’t remember the Hamsters?  Before there were cats, there were hamsters:  oris/dance/   (note the .edu address.)  Dance with music:   And check out the original source of the Hamster Dance music:  Disney’s animated Robin Hood (1972): 


Equal time for cats.

Still not sure about the type of source?

  1. Avoid it.
  2. Desperately need the information on the page?
    1. Determine who produced the information (or source).   This has two purposes:
      1. It will help you determine what type of source you have.  For example:  if  the information is on the CNN page, you can assume that it is related to news in some way.
      2. It will help you evaluate the information.  If you can’t find out who produced a source, or other pertinent information, you probably need to avoid it and ask for help to find the information you desperately need.
  3. Determine what the aim or purpose of the source is.  
    1. Information?
    2. Entertainment?
    3. Persuasion? 
    4. Something else?
    5. This information will also help you evaluate the source, which in turn will help you decide if you can use it for academic research.

If you can’t figure out what the aim or purpose of a source is, you can’t find any information on who produced it, and you don’t know what type of source you have, avoid it.  Ask a librarian to help you find the same information in a reputable source.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Finding, citing & evaluating general web sources: citing

Citing web sources is just as difficult as determining what kind of source you have.  The problems are related.  You need to know the type of source to cite it correctly.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are no official format styles for many types of web sources.  How do you figure out how to cite them?

Start with checking the official style manual for the format you are using (MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian).  If you don’t find what you need, try the OWL@Purdue list of examples.  They will give you a reasonable suggestion and explain why they formatted citations as they did.  If you don’t find what you’re looking for, either use the OWL search box (for example:  APA YouTube) or scan the OWL’s FAQs to find their suggestions for formatting:  MLA, APA.  Check out the University of Chicago Press website for information on Chicago/Turabian.

Still don’t see what you need?  Try a Google (or Bing, etc.) search (for example, if you want to cite a tumblr:  APA 6th tumblr library OR MLA 7th tumblr site:edu).  Adding in the word “library” or searching only .edu sites will help you find the best guides.  Libraries and writing centers have the best guides.  Be sure the guide is for Chicago 16th/Turabian 8th,  MLA 7th edition and APA 6th edition.  An even better way of  vvvvvvvv

Remember! Do not reference an entire website unless you’re using it as an example.

NOTE:   If your instructor wants a different version of Chicago/Turabian, APA or MLA, use that version.

Remember that in a real bibliography/reference list/ worked cited list, you would indent the second and any following lines.  Note that the title of website is in italics.

The publisher can also be referred to as the sponsor or sponsoring group or a corporate author (=an association, government agency, etc., cited as an author).  So, for the National Geographic citations, National Geographic  is both the title of the website and the publisher/sponsoring group/corporate author.

Chicago 16th/Turabian 8th

Author. “Title of webpage.” Title of the Website, if no title, publisher of website. Date of publication. Accessed date. URL.

Hawass, Zahi.  “King Tut’s Family Secrets.” National Geographic. National Geographic, Sept. 2010.  Accessed April 5, 2015.

MLA 7th edition

Author. “Title of webpage.” Title of the Website. Publisher Name, Day Mon. Year. Web. Day Mon. Year retrieved.

Hawass, Zahi. “King Tut’s Family Secrets.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

 APA 6th edition

Author. (Year, Month day). Title of webpage. Title of the Website. Retrieved from URL of specific article

Hawass, Z. (2010, September). King Tut’s family secrets. National Geographic. Retrieved from

NOTE:  Don’t have an author?  Start with the title (King Tut’s…).  For APA, put the title followed by a period THEN put the date information in parentheses.  Never start with the date.

Using Word to cite pages from general websites. (Click to enlarge image.)

Using Word to cite general web sources.

Using Word to cite general web sources.
Courtesy of Microsoft.

NOTE:  Using Word 2013 or 365?  You don’t need to click on the  “Show all Bibliography Fields” box.  All fields are available.

Citing other web sources

Wikipedia makes it easy for you.  Once you’ve chosen a good article that you are allowed to use, then use their cite tool.

Using the Wikipedia cite feature.

Using the Wikipedia cite feature.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

How to use the Wikipedia cite feature.

How to use the Wikipedia cite feature.
Courtesy Wikipedia

Blogs, newsgroups, Tumblr, forums, etc.

Turabian 8th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Post.” Name of SiteDate of post. Accessed  date. URL.

Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. June 2, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2012.

NOTE:  some guides (and instructors) recommend using the format type  after the title UNLESS the format word appears in the title.  Some put it in parentheses, others do not.  I personally leave it out, but check with your instructor.

Example:  Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. (Blog).  June 2, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2012.


Example:  Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. blog.  June 2, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2012.

MLA 7th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Post.” Name of Site. Message number if available. Name of Sponsor or publisher, Day Mon. Year posted. Web. Day Mon. Year retrieved.

Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. Yarnbombing. 2 Jun. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

NOTE: I had really to search to find the author’s name and the posting date. If you use web sources, you’re expected to do the same.  If you don’t want the hassle of figuring out how to cite web sources, then stick with articles from library databases.

Message numbers  were more common in listservs,  forums,  and similar, older systems.

 APA 6th edition

Author or screen name. (Year, Month day). Title of post. [Web log post]. Retrieved from URL of specific post

Prain, L. (2010, June 2). Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G . [Web log post]. Retrieved from

NOTE:  The blog cited above is a good example of why a “date accessed” is helpful.  In 2012, the post was available.  It is no longer available from the blog.  You might be able to find it using The Wayback Machine.  (You can check out Knitorious M.E.G.  at her website:


Citing YouTube and other web videos

Turabian 8th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Video.” YouTube. Date posted. Accessed date. URL of specific video.

  • If there’s no author/screen name posted, start with the title.
  • If there’s no date created, use copyright date if available OR use: n.d. for no date.

TheKheinz. “JK Wedding Entrance Dance.” YouTube. July 19, 2009.  Accessed March 12, 2012.

MLA 7th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Video.” Name of Channel or Episode if Available. Name of Website. Name of Sponsor or publisher, Day Mon. Year created. Web. Day Mon. Year retrieved.

  • If there’s no author/screen name posted, start with the title.
  • If there’s no date created, use copyright date if available OR use: n.d. for no date.
  • If there’s no obvious channel or episode, leave it out.

TheKheinz. “JK Wedding Entrance Dance.” YouTube. 19 Jul. 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

APA 6th edition

Author or screen name. (Year, Month day). Title of video. [Video file]. Retrieved from URL of specific video

  • If there’s no author or screen name, start with the title of video THEN the date 

TheKheinz. (2009, July 19). JK wedding entrance dance. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Remember – if the citation for a bibliography/reference/works cited list is more than one line, indent the second – and any following – line 5 spaces.

Using Word to cite web sources

General Word format for other web sources.

General Word format for other web sources.
Courtesy of Microsoft


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Finding, citing & evaluating general websites: evaluating

Back in the Dark Ages when I was an undergraduate, sources were hard to find,  but easy to evaluate. Students these days have the opposite problem. Sources are very easy to find, but can be very hard to evaluate.   If you want to use a web source for an academic assignment, you are responsible for evaluating it – making sure it fits your assignment, that it’s high  quality,  and that it wasn’t plagiarized (yes, if you use a source that was plagiarized, you have plagiarized.)

What do we mean by evaluate?   You can check out the Merriam Webster dictionary definition here.  Definition 2 from Merriam-Webster is the closest for our purposes: “to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study.”

It’s tempting to use the most convenient source.  Doing so is a good way to fail an assignment.    So, how do you evaluate web sources to ensure you are using a quality source?  I’ve given you a list of things (see below) to look for, but it can help to have an aide-mémoire (look at definition 1 this time.)  Yes, it’s silly and hokey (definition  1 AND 2) and a bunch of other related adjectives, but I bet you’ll remember it.

Please watch all of this State Farm commercial*   and the first 30 seconds or so of  S/S 2014 | Barcelona.

Who is the real French model – the State Farm guy (Eric Filipkowski) or Clément Chabernaud?   When you make your decision, you are evaluating.  For a simple question like this,  the process of evaluation happens very quickly.  In fact, what you’re doing is comparing the two gentlemen against your idea of what a French Model should look like.  Your criteria may include:

  • looks
  • clothes
  • context (one was on a runway, the other was in a commercial)
  • their web presence
  • etc.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to decide if a web source is a “real French model” or “fake.”  With time and practice, you can reach the point where evaluating a web source is straightforward.  Until you reach that point, it’s helpful to keep a cheat sheet on hand to help you decide

Use the criteria  below to  help you decide if your source is a “real”  French model or a “fake” one.  These criteria are the same ones you use to buy a car or a computer or anything else expensive, they’ve just been tweaked a bit to apply to information sources.

There are four basic categories you’ll need to consider:  (see details below)

  • relevance,
  • credibility
  • currency
  • objectivity.

When you’re trying to decide if a web source is okay to use in a paper,  you’ll need to consider at least one of the items in each category.  For more complex sources such as peer reviewed articles, you’ll need to consider several items in each category.

Fake or hoax sites

You may run into sites that you think might be fake.  Not sure?  There are several things you can do to check.  The first is to use a website that specializes in debunking internet (and other) stories.  Two of the better known are Snopes and the Museum of Hoaxes.  (Note:  these sites use ads to help support themselves, but are still considered mostly accurate at this time.)  You can also check Wikipedia or just try googling or binging and see what comes up.


For an evaluation checklist with text & video examples go to:

Evaluating websites, be they general sites, specialty sites, blogs, wikis, or videos, is tricky  because many are missing the types of information normally used to evaluate a source.

Can’t find the date or any information about the author?   This may be a good reason to avoid using a web source.

Evaluating web sources


  • Is the web page clearly relevant to your topic?
    • For example: you are writing a paper on how steroid use has affected public perception of baseball.
    • You find a web page about the chemistry of steroids.  While this website may be useful for background information, this website is not directly relevant.  You need to find a better source.
  • Cite only a single page or section from a website.  Do not cite an entire website!
    • Exception: you are writing a paper on website design (or something similar) and using the entire website as an example, not an information source.

Can you use related web pages? Yes, but:  Using a general web page as a source is iffy enough as it is.  Don’t add to the problem by trying to use a source that is not clearly and directly relevant.  Use related web pages for background only.

Right kind of web page?  Popular/scholarly/trade?  Primary or secondary?

  • Most web pages are popular.
  • Websites with primary sources suitable for academic research are usually associated with universities, museums and other academically inclined institutions,  or with government archives, and the like.
  • Most trade websites are published by professional associations.

As with articles from library databases, you need to keep in mind: who is the audience?

  • Look for web sources that have authors and provide information about the author.

If you can’t figure out who wrote/posted the information (be it a personal author or a group of some kind), then you should find a different source.

EXCEPTION 1:  Some government and association sites do not  list authors.  They have what are called “corporate authors.”  This means you use the name of the association or the government department or agency as the author.

EXCEPTION 2:  If you’re using the source as an example as opposed to a source of information,  you can use a source that lacks important information.


  • Look at your assignment and see what your instructor requires.
  • If your instructor didn’t mention dates, then think about your topic and whether it needs really current sources or older ones will do.
  • If you can’t find a date on a website, try to find the same information on a different website or in library databases.zasssssss

Dates can be hard to find.

  • Check at the bottom of the page, “About us” links, and other links with information about the site to find the information.
  • If there is a copyright date plus an updated date, use the updated date.
  • If there is a range (2008-2010, for example), use the range (in other words, use 2008-2010 instead of a single year.
  • Yes, if you want to use a web page, then it’s your responsibility to either find a date or be able to list 3 or more places you checked.


  • Does the information agree with the other articles and sources that you’ve found?
  • If the information doesn’t agree with most of the other sources, do the authors clearly tell you why they disagree and present evidence to support their ideas?
  • If you have both web pages and a magazine or journal article that say the same thing, it’s usually better to use the magazine or journal articles, because it’s usually clear who wrote the articles and you know the name of the magazine or journal.

Trustworthy web sources

  • Web pages from universities, museums, other academically inclined institutions, or governments usually have trustworthy material.
  • Web pages from non-profit institutions are often trustworthy, although you need to watch for bias.
    • EXCEPTION: Universities and other institutions often allow students and others to post web pages. These web pages may be good quality or they may not.
  • Be extra-cautious when using web pages that are not clearly done by experts at the institution (experts = faculty, curators, etc.)
  • Using student or other web pages not written by experts increases your chances of accidentally plagiarizing.
  • Even when using web pages done by experts, be sure to evaluate for information quality. Experts can produce poor quality information too.

Detective work

How do you find all of the information listed above?  You have to look for it.  When evaluating and citing websites, you are expected to be a detective.

  • You need to be willing to track down dates, author information, etc.
  • Check “About Us”
  • Check “Contact Us”
  • Check out whatever looks like it might have information.
  • Don’t forget the bottom of the page – that’s often where copyright information is.

You are responsible for finding whatever information is available.

Don’t want to do all that work? Use an article from a library database or a scholarly search engine.

Other things to keep in mind when evaluating a source:

There is also the issue of your own personal biases.  It’s impossible to be completely free of bias when doing an academic paper or project.  The goal is to be as objective as possible.  You do this by presenting the major opposing viewpoints relating to your topic.  Papers and projects that present both sides are stronger because they show that the writer knows what s/he is talking about and that s/he can defend his/her position  against all comers.   Doing an argumentative paper?  In an argumentative paper you are defending one side of a question.  An argumentative paper will be stronger if you support your side by taking the points of the opposing side and demolishing them.

Avoid ad hominem arguments.  In ad hominem arguments, the person is attacked, not the argument.  If you use an ad hominem argument, you’ve already lost because people assume you are using an ad hominem argument because you can’t defend your position.

Example:  Calling someone a ‘commie liberal’ instead of explaining why you think gun control laws are wrong is an example of an ad hominem argument.

Be sure to attack the information,, not the person.

Sounds like evaluation is a lot of work, doesn’t it?  In the beginning, it can be.  Once you’ve had some practice, you should be able to evaluate almost automatically.  You need to know how  to evaluate  your sources because you are responsible for using the best information you can find for papers and other assignments.

*NOTE:  I do not have State Farm insurance.  This link is merely for educational purposes and should not be considered as any kind of endorsement for State Farm.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Finding, citing & evaluating articles: Finding 1: Subject databases

Subject Databases

Finding articles:  background

To make finding articles easier:

  • you need a good research question
  • you need good keywords and/or  key phrases
  • you need to use your keywords and phrases to develop a good search statement.  A search statement is just putting your keywords and key phrases together using AND, OR and NOT (see below)
  • you need to search for articles  in the right places
  • you need to choose articles that are:
    • directly relevant
    • the right type of article (scholarly, popular, primary, etc.)
    • good quality

In this reading, we’re going to look at using subject databases to find articles.  In the next reading, we’ll look at using OneSearch and finish up in the third reading by looking at scholarly search engines such as Google Scholar & PubMed.

There are some basic terms you need to know to be able to find the best articles.

  • Article:  a written piece of non-fiction, complete in itself, found in periodicals, on the web and, sometimes in books. (adapted from:
  • Periodical: a published work that appears in a new version on a regular schedule. The most common examples are journals, magazines and newspapers.  Periodicals may available be in print, online or, for older ones, on microform. (adapted from:
  •  Journal:  a periodical that contains scholarly articles.  Most articles are  peer reviewed (also known as refereed.)  CAUTION:  even scholarly journals contain material that is not scholarly, such as opinions, letters, editorials, book reviews, etc.
  • Trade journals.  The articles in trade journals are aimed at people in a specific field.  Most articles are related to how work is done in that field.
  •  Magazine:  a periodical whose content is aimed at a general audience.  Most magazines are published weekly or monthly.   Articles in magazines are popular or trade.
    • Just to make life more confusing, there are a few magazines that contain scholarly articles.  Science (US) and Nature (UK) are the most famous examples.  These magazines, and a few others, that publish scholarly articles date back into the late 1800s when the terms were less defined.   Unless told otherwise, assume a periodical is popular if it has “magazine” in its title.
  •  Newspapers: periodicals that are published daily and sometimes weekly (usually in smaller towns.)  Their content is popular.
  •  News Reports:  These are the video and online equivalent of newspaper articles.  They may be written articles on a news site such as CNN, or they can be video reports from broadcast, cable/satellite or online sources such as ABC, CBS,NBC, & PBS among others.  Treat them as you would a newspaper article.  CAUTION:  video reports can be good sources, but not all instructors accept them.  Ask first!
  •  Newsletters are a subcategory of newspapers.  They may be print or online.
    • Much smaller – often just two or 3 regular size pages
    • Usually monthly or quarterly (four times a year.)
    • Often trade:  Public Health Nursing Newsletter
    • Can be popular:  Berkeley Wellness Newsletter
    • Instructors usually prefer a journal, magazine or newspaper article over a newsletter article.
CAUTION:  magazines, newspapers and newsletters often report on studies of interest to their readers.  These articles are NOT scholarly.   How do you tell?  The original study will be in a journal, it will have a section on methodology,  and an extensive reference list.  A report on the study in a popular periodical will often include who did the study and where they got the information.  This is usually enough to help you find the original study.  If you have problems, ask a librarian for help.
As usual, reports on historical topics are a bit trickier.  Basically, if it’s in a magazine or newspaper or on the web, assume that you need to find the original article. As with more scientific topics, a good popular article will give you enough information to find the original.
Articles  not in periodicals:  these days you can find articles on the web that are  not in periodicals.  These include general web pages, blog posts, Wikipedia articles, etc.  See the sections on web sources.
Library article databases:  specialized search engines that search databases containing articles.  Article databases  can be general, covering many fields, for example:  Academic Search Premier.  They can also be very specific, covering one field or a group of related fields, for example:  PsycInfo.  
The articles in  databases come from periodicals and occasionally books.  Many are available in full-text.  Full-text may be available  from the database you’re searching, or you may need to click a link and find the full-text in a different database.
In a few cases, you may need to borrow the article on interlibrary loan.  Often, you can get an article in 24 – 48 hours (Monday – Friday).  Often is not always. Do NOT count on all articles arriving in 24 – 48 hours, especially not during the last few weeks of the semester.
For additional definitions, see the Glossary of Library Terms on Canvas.  On the course home page, look at the right menu near the center.   Click on the link.  Once you’re on the page, click on the PDF link to pull up the file.
NEVER, EVER  PAY for an article.  I repeat:  NEVER, EVER  PAY for an article.   Check with the reference desk for ways to find it or get it for free or  check the directions later in this set of readings.
Back to important definitions:
EBSCO/Ebscohost is NOT a database.  EBSCO is a vendor (selling the databases), a publisher (putting the content on the web) and an aggregator (collecting content from different journals, magazines, etc.)     EBSCOHost is the  platform, or software, you use to access the information.
Proquest and Gale Cengage are two of the largest database vendors/publishers and aggregators after Ebsco.
  • You must keep track of which database you are using:
    • to make sure you don’t search the same database over and over
    • because some citation styles require you to use the database name in the citation
    • to make it easy for you to find again
The fastest way is to keep track of databases is to keep a list of the names you click on in the library’s list of databases.  Keep a Word or Google Drive or Docs document or put all downloads from a database into a file labeled with a name such as ABI/Inform Global.  However you do it, keep track.  You’ll be happy you did once you start writing the paper.

 Finding articles:  search statements

A search statement is what you type in the find information.  It can be as simple as one word, or as complex as several phrases combined using the boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).
People usually find it easier to figure out search statements if they can see the steps, so check below for a step by step description of the process.

Finding articles:  choosing a subject database

After you’ve come up with your keywords/phrases and a basic search statement, the next step is choosing the best subject database.   Once you learn about OneSearch and Google Scholar (or maybe you already use them), you may wonder why you need to use subject databases.  There are several reasons:
  • They are often the best and fastest to place to find good articles on a topic
  • You may be required to use them for upper level courses
  • Often, your instructor will require you to use subject databases

How do you tell the best databases in your field?

  • Do it the easy way:  ask a librarian.
  • Go to the library’s Article Databases page and find the subject closest to your topic.
    • The top 3 databases are listed for each subject area
    • Check the descriptions.  If the top 3 don’t work, scroll down and read down the titles and descriptions until you find one that suits your topic.
Avoid these Ebscohost databases:
  • Searchasaurus – this is aimed at grade school students
  • Primary Search – also aimed at grade school students
  • Middle Search – aimed at middle school students
Use with care:
  • TopicSearch – a current events database aimed at high school students
  • MAS Ultra – aimed at high school students

NOTE:  most of the information in the above databases is also found in Academic Search Premier

  SEE my list of suggested databases on Canvas.  Go to the course home page.  On the left side, click on  “Pages”  Click on the “all pages” button above the text, then click on the “Suggested Databases” link.

 Tips for choosing the best database
  •  look at the requirements for your paper or project
  • determine what kinds of sources you need:  primary/second, popular/scholarly/trade. (Check out Information Types & Formats if you don’t remember what each is)
    • Some databases, such as Academic Search Premier, have scholarly, popular & trade journals, magazines and newspapers.  Academic Search Premier is a good database to begin with for most topics.
    • Some databases, such as Sociological Abstracts, focus on one subject and have only (or mostly) scholarly articles.
    • Some databases, such as Proquest Newsstand cover many subjects and have only popular and trade articles.
 REMEMBER:  As a rule, only newspaper and magazine articles are available for very current topics.  It can take a year or more for a scholarly article to be published, even in a journal that’s only published online.

Finding Articles:  searching subject databases

In this section, we’ll look at developing a good search statement.  Remember that when you’re looking for articles you need a more specific search statement than you will when searching for books.  There are a lot more articles than books and articles are about more specific topics than books.  This means you can focus your search more than you can when looking for books.
Won’t a general search statement work for articles?  Yes, if you want to wade through pages of articles and cross your fingers you’ll get lucky and find something on the first page.  Using a good search statement will make it possible for you to find better articles without scrolling through pages of articles.
A focused topic with fewer but better sources is a lot easier to write than trying to figure out what to write about from a big pile of papers.
More is NOT better when it comes to searching for academic resources.

The bad news about search statements is that you may need to tweak  or even rewrite your search statement to find the best articles.

I’m going to start with Academic Search Premier.

NOTE:  I am using an older research question because it shows more clearly how you may need to play around with words and phrases and their order.  Searching for information about people, such as Galla Placidia, is always easier because the one important term you’re looking for is a person’s name.  Even name searching can be a problem, though, if the person used different names or spellings or you are dealing with names from a language such as Chinese, where there are several different ways of spelling the name in English..

Because most databases share similar structures, what you learn using Academic Search Premier as an example will transfer to other library subject databases.   The trick is to avoid letting the superficial differences get in the way. Focusing on the similarities between databases will make it easier for you to learn how to use new databases on your own.  OR, you can just ask a librarian for help.  Remember, we have phone, text, chat and email, plus you can always stop by the reference desk and ask.

Most article databases begin with a basic search page. Usually, you will see a single search box that looks like Google.    Like Google, library databases allow you to limit your search.  Unlike Google, they have many more options.  Dates, type of article, location, etc. are all things you can use to limit your search to the most useful articles.

If the basic search plus limits is not finding what you need, then look for a link that says Advanced Search.  It will give you more options than you probably want.  When using advanced search you need to read the directions or go the easy route and ask a librarian.

The research question I’m using for this reading is:  Did Lord Elgin’s contemporaries consider his acquisition of the Parthenon marbles legal?  The keywords/phrases I developed are:  “Elgin Marbles,” controversy, acquisition, legality, contemporary.

First, you need to access the database.  You can do this from home or on-campus.  If you’re at home, the system will ask you for your Weber user name and password.  This is your regular Weber user  name and password that you use for the portal, Canvas, etc.  NOTE:  you may not be able to access databases from work – it depends on the security setup.

Pioneer:  Utah’s Online Library

You can access Academic Search Premier and many other databases without signing in at:  the new link is: – both links are still working for now. .  In the first column, click on:  Alphabetical List and Information About All Databases (or follow this link.)  If the name has either Restricted Access or Library Card Required, you will need a public library card to access – a few may be accessible only to K-12 students.  Databases that don’t require a sign in are available only within the boundaries of the state of Utah.  If you’re out of state, you will need to use Stewart Library’s databases. (If you’re interested, the databases that don’t require a sign-in use geolocation – you’re considered an acceptable patron as long as you stay in-state – the system recognizes Utah based internet addresses.)

Stewart Library has a large number of specialty databases that aren’t available via Pioneer, so you will need to use our databases as well.

You must access WSU databases through the library’s website to get access.

Go to:  In the center column, click on the Academic Search Premier (ASP)  link.  If you are off-campus, you will be asked for a user name and password.  This is your usual WSU username and password.


Let’s start with the basic search page.  (Remember to click on the image to enlarge it.)

Basic Search Screen for Academic Search Premier

Ebsco Basic Search Screen
Courtesy EBSCO

Let’s focus just on the search box.  Type in your search.  Usually, you’ll need to use several terms.  Not sure whether to use AND or not?  Try the search without AND.  If you find what you want, great.  If not, search again, using AND.   Remember to indicate key phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks.

So, for my research question: Did Lord Elgin’s contemporaries consider his acquisition of the Parthenon marbles legal?   I need to start with a specific search statement.  Remember,  you need to be specific when you search for articles.  So, I might start with something like:

Academic Search Premier basic search screen

Ebsco Basic Search Screen – this one is Academic Search Premier
Courtesy of Ebsco


And, I’ll get something like this:

An Academic Search Premier search with no results

Academic Search Premier – no results
Courtesy of Ebsco

Most people’s immediate reaction is to broaden the search.  I probably do have too many keywords/phrases.  However, I also need to change my keywords/phrases.  Usually, when you don’t find anything, you need to keywords and not use as many .  Occasionally, you will need to change databases.  For this topic, I might want to try an art database.

Not sure what the Parthenon Marbles (AKA Elgin Marbles) are?  Check out the Wikipedia article.

Now it’s time to start playing around with terms, boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT) and with the number of keywords/phrases.

  • I start by dropping “acquisition” and “controversy” since those terms are understood for this subject.   (this technique does not work for all subjects)
  • Next, I try replacing some of my terms.  I try: “Elgin Marbles” AND history AND legality.  
    • Keywords  like “contemporary” don’t work unless you’re looking for something like “contemporary art.”
    • History” gets at the idea that I want to find information on Lord Elgin’s time.
    • I find one article, but it’s about the current debate over repatriation of the marbles and it doesn’t discuss the views of people in Lord Elgin’s time.
  • I try “Elgin Marbles” AND history AND controversy
    • I find another article, but it’s about the current debate, too.
    • It mentions the fact that Lord Elgin’ contemporaries felt what he had done was illegal,  but on sentence is not enough.   As a rule, you need several on-topic paragraphs before you can claim an article is a source.
  • Since the marbles are controversial and the previous article mentions people at the time felt what he did was illegal, I drop controversy and type in:  “Lord Elgin” AND marbles AND history.
    • I find several articles and a couple of them have information.  The articles are relevant, but don’t provide much information.
  •  NOTE:  I might have decided that my problem was the fact that I didn’t know if it was better to use “legality” or “legal.”  You can search for both terms in two different ways.
    • Use OR.  Remember to put parentheses around the terms connected with OR.  So:   (legal OR legality)
    • Another way is to use truncation.
      •  The * symbol (shift-8 on the keyboard) will find different endings starting from the letter before the *. So, if I type legal*, the system would find:  legal, legality.  Histor* would find history, historical, historian.
      • Be careful not to truncate too much.  Rat* finds rat, rats, ratio, rational, rationale, rating, ratings, etc.  This is too general to be useful.  In fact, you will just make work for yourself.
      • The asterisk (*) is a wildcard.  When you use a wildcard to find different endings, you are using truncation.
    • NOTE:  Most search engines do not allow truncation or wildcards.  They do something called stemming, which produces results similar  to truncation.  If stemming doesn’t help, then combine the terms with OR – remember to put parentheses around the terms connected with OR.

At this point, I need to switch to a subject specific database such as Art Fulltext.  Art Fulltext looks like Academic Search Premier, but covers more art journals and doesn’t cover general magazines and newspapers.  I’m going to use the search that worked best in Academic Search Premier.


Art Fulltext basic screen

Basic search screen for Art Fulltext (Ebsco.)
Courtesy of Ebsco.


This search finds two articles.  The first one looks really good until I read the abstract.  It may have a little bit of information, but not a lot.

How to read the Art Fulltext result screen.

How to read the Art Fulltext result screen.
Courtesy of Ebsco.


I try a couple of other searches  – “Lord Elgin AND history AND marbles is the first search.  The second search is “Lord Elgin AND  legal* (note the use of truncation.)    I decided that I didn’t need to use “marbles” as a term because article in an art database would most likely be about the Elgin Marbles.

I found about 10 more articles, but none of them were really relevant.  At this point, I decide to use a database that covers history and art – JSTOR.  JSTOR stands for Journal Storage.  JSTOR was created to make sure that the online versions of older journals (and a few magazines) were kept.   In the beginning, JSTOR had only the older articles.  Now there are some current articles, plus some books. (NOTE:  we do not have access to the books or the current articles.)

However, most of the JSTOR database still consists of articles that are at least 3-5 years old.  The majority of these articles are available in fulltext.  Because of the subjects that it covers, JSTOR can be a very good place to look for articles in history and art.  However, because you are missing the most recent 3-5 years, you must check another database for more current information.  If you don’t check for more current articles, you could miss a critically important paper.

Never use JSTOR alone.  Always check a different article database for more current information.


Doing a search on JSTOR.

Doing a search on JSTOR.
Courtesy of JSTOR.


ALWAYS USE ADVANCED SEARCH ON JSTOR.  ALWAYS!  (Unless you like doing extra work.)


JSTOR results page.

JSTOR results page.
Courtesy of JSTOR.


This time, I found 65 sources and some of them are relevant to  my topic.  However, a lot of the sources have nothing to do with my topic. If I only needed two or three articles, I’d probably browse through until I found a couple that would work.

If you need more than two or three articles, there are several things you can do. The easiest way to find more sources is to look at the record for one of the relevant sources, see what subject and/or title terms they used and try some of them.  If  you’ve tried several different searches and still don’t find anything, you probably need to switch to a different database or do it the easy way and ask a librarian for ideas.

Sometimes you can get a list of subject headings from the results list. (Note:  for JSTOR, you need to look at the article title and the abstract or article summary if there is one.)

Finding keywords on the results screen. Courtesy of Ebsco.

Finding keywords on the results screen.
Courtesy of Ebsco.

Other times, you need to look at the complete record.  Click on the article title to pull up the record. (On Ebsco databases, you can also mouse over the page icon with the magnifying glass on the right of the title.)

Finding keywords on a full record.

Finding keywords on a full record.
Courtesy of Ebsco.

Avoid the temptation to limit to full text.  Limiting to full text could result in you missing the perfect article.  When you click on the Find Fulltext link, the system will either take you directly to the article, or it takes you to an article access page that links you to the full text of the journal in a different database.   The page used to look like:

Using the Article Linker to find full text in a different database.

Using the Article Linker to find full text in a different database.
Courtesy of Ebsco.


If the system finds a link, it looks like this.

The OneSearch linking page

This is what Article Access looks like if it finds a link.
Courtesy of JSTOR & Proquest


If the system doesn’t find a link, it looks like:

This is what the article access page looks like if it does NOT find a link.

This is what the article access page looks like if it does NOT find a link.
Courtesy of Proquest

Click on the article link to see the article.  (If all you see is a journal link, you will need to click on journal then look up the correct year, volume, etc.)

NOTE:  Occasionally, you’ll run into a topic where we don’t seem to have any fulltext.  That happened to me with this topic.  I had to go to the second page to find an example.  If you can’t find full text for an article you want,  ask a librarian to show you how to use interlibrary loan – we can usually get an article for you (electronically, from another library) in 24-48 hours.  During the last few weeks of school, expect interlibrary loan to take longer.

Once you find the article in another database, you need to find the PDF of the article.  Always click on the PDF to make sure you get any charts, graphics, images, etc.   You may have to search for the PDF link.  Usually, it’s somewhere near the start of the article.  However, it can be at the top right or left of the page, right about the article text, under a picture of the issue, buried in the citation information, etc.  Having trouble?  Ask for help.


Always try to find the PDF of your article.

Always try to find the PDF of your article.
Courtesy of JSTOR


Need more articles?  If you found a lot on Academic Search Premier, you can use them or you can redo your search using different keywords.  However, you might find  better articles by changing to a subject specific database.  As was the case with my topic, I had to try a couple of different subject specific databases. (Welcome to the wonderful world of historical research.)

Remember – library article databases may look different, but with the exception of specialty databases (for example:  accounting), they are structured the same.  You just need to look around, figure out what’s going on and then start to search.  As always, you can go the easy route and ask a librarian for help.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Finding, citing & evaluating databases: Finding 2: OneSearch


In the reading on Evaluation, I wrote:

Back in the dark ages when I was an undergraduate, sources were hard to find but easy to evaluate. Students these days have the opposite problem. Sources are very easy to find, but can be very hard to evaluate.

While sources are very easy to find, finding the types of sources your professor wants you  to use can be difficult for a number of reasons:

  • you don’t know where to look
  • you don’t know the best library database  for your topic
  • you don’t know what a library database is (much less how to use it)
  • you don’t really know what the professor wants
  • you really just want to use Google and Wikipedia and be done with it

We’ve tried to simplify the process in several ways:

  • the Library  website has a list of databases arranged by title and by subject.
    • On the Library’s home page, click on the blue pancakes icon (center).
      • Choose the subject area closest to your topic
      • The most important databases in that subject are listed at the top
  • We create subject and class specific guides, called Libguides, that suggest the best databases for a specific subject areas.

While these lists and guides can be useful, they don’t always help:

  • we have over 235 databases, but we only refer to a small number on any given guide.
  • if you’re doing research that is interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, or multidisciplinary ;for example, a B.I.S capstone project, you may need to look in three or four or more databases, plus a scholarly search engine such as Google Scholar.

Over the past few years, companies have responded to this problem by developing discovery systems.  In the simplest terms, a discovery system encompasses most of a library’s information – books, articles, streaming music and videos, and digitized information from the University’s Archives and Special Collections.  (This means you can find primary documents from Special Collections & Archives that have been digitized.)

Stewart Library has implemented  a discovery system we’re calling OneSearch.  The company calls the system Summon, which you may see occasionally.

Using OneSearch  

OneSearch URL:  or find a search box in the center  of the library’s home page.

NOTE:  if you are searching off-campus ALWAYS click on the small OneSearch link under the search box.  You must sign in from off-campus if you want to find the fulltext articles.

The OneSearch search box is similar to other search boxes.  (Click on the image to enlarge.)


OneSearch basic search screende

OneSearch basic search screen


If you’re off campus, OneSearch works a bit differently from our other databases.  You can do a search and read through the results (citations & abstracts) without typing in your WSU user name and password.   When you click on a “Find Fulltext”  link OneSearch will  asked for your user name & password then.

HOWEVER, the problem with searching without logging in is that you’ll miss things from a number of our subject databases such as PsycInfo, Econlit, MLA Bibliography and America:  History and Life.   These (and a few others) are  indexing and abstracting databases.  That means all you get is a citation and abstract or summary and if you’re lucky, a link to an article in another database.

If you’re off-campus, you have to log in before OneSearch will search any of the indexing and abstracting databases.  Since they include the most important subject databases in many areas, just log in and you won’t have to worry about it.

OFF CAMPUS?  BE SURE TO LOG IN BY CLICKING ON THE LINK IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER.  Ignore the log in link on the upper right hand corner.


Once you’ve done a search, you’ll get a result screen.  On the left side, there’s a menu you can use to limit your search in various ways. The right side is the preview pane.  As you mouse over a title,  you’ll see information about the source appear. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The OneSearch results page.

111111 The OneSearch results page.

Need to narrow your search?  Use the limits from the menu on the left side.  You can narrow by date, by peer review, by journal article or subject matter.  The numbers after each option indicate the number of sources left when you use that limit.

Example of the limit fields

Use the limits on the left to eliminate sources that aren’t useful for you.

When should you use OneSearch?  It’s best for lower level research and research where an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach is needed or when you haven’t found anything using our other databases.

OneSearch is also good for searching databases we don’t own:  databases owned by other schools who use the same system can be searched if you check the “include results from outside your library’s collection.”

If you want to use OneSearch to search for materials for advanced classes, be sure to use the Advanced Search feature.  Find it by clicking the icon (it changes depending on the browser you’re using) to the right of the Search button on the basic search page.

Doing advanced work?  Figure out the best databases in your field and use them directly.  Individual databases will always have more powerful search features and take you to good articles more directly

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Finding, citing & evaluating articles: Finding 3: scholarly search engines

Scholarly Search Engines

Stewart Library has access to over 230 article databases.  That’s a small percentage of what’s available.  The University of Utah, Utah State and BYU all have many databases that we do not.

You can walk into those libraries and use their databases (you can also use your Wildcard to checkout books.)   However, unless you’re doing in-depth research for a senior thesis,  capstone project or undergraduate research grant, you probably don’t need to head south (or north.)

Scholarly search engines can often fill in gaps in the subject content covered by Stewart Library’s databases.  The two  most useful ones are Google Scholar, and Pubmed.  A third, Scirius, has unfortunately ceased operation. MicroSoft Academic Search has some nice features, but is currently dormant with only a small database to search.  Wolfram Alpha works best for finding specific answers, especially in science & mathematics.  It does not have the kind of articles you need to find for papers.

Google Scholar

Let’s look at Google Scholar first.  Like Academic Search PremierGoogle Scholar covers all fields.

  • The first thing you need to do is to set Google Scholar  up to link to Stewart Library articles.
  • Once you’ve completed the setup, go directly to:
  • Start by typing your research question (not your search statement) into the search box.
  • If you aren’t finding many useful articles,  try using a search statement.
  • If you have access to the article via Stewart Library, there will be a link saying Full-text @ Weber State
  • You may also be able to link to full articles elsewhere.  Look for links that say something like:  PDF from …  Be careful that you have the full article.  Some links go to draft versions.
  • Can’t find a link?  Try clicking on the versions link (for example:  All 7 versions).  You’ll find a link to the article just often enough to make it worth your time clicking the link.

Google Scholar has another useful feature:  “cited by.”  If you click on the cited by link, it takes you to a list of articles that use the original article you found in their works cited/bibliography/reference list.  This is an easy way to find more articles related to your topic.  For older articles, a large number of “cited by” references can be used as a rough indication of the importance of the article.  The more the article is cited, the more important (usually) it is.

CAUTION:  Google Scholar contains different types of sources.  It is your responsibility to be able to tell the difference between a book, an article, a patent, etc.   Google Scholar labels books [BOOK], but you’re on your own for articles and other types of sources.  One type of source you may find is a white paper.  White papers are not usually considered scholarly.  Most are policy statements on a specific issue written by people who are experts in the field.  However, they are not peer reviewed or refereed as a rule.  White papers can be very valuable sources, but make sure your instructor accepts them.  Ask, don’t just stick them in  your reference list and cross your fingers.  Professors in fields like political science, social work and sociology are more likely to accept white papers as sources.

Google Scholar does have an advanced search, but they’ve simplified it and unfortunately have dropped a number of useful limits.

To access information from the library, look for the Full text @ Weber State  link.  (These images date to a period before we changed the link name.)

Using Google Scholar.

Using Google Scholar.
Courtesy of Google.

Click on the Full-Text@Weber State.  In most cases, this will take you directly to the article. Occasionally, the system won’t find the article and you’ll need to look it up.  The information you need is on the right sidebar.  If you haven’t signed in already, the system will prompt you for your WSU user name and password before letting you see the article.


The OneSearch linking page

The OneSearch linking page
Courtesy of JSTOR & Proquest

The linking system is good, but it is not 100% accurate.  If you can’t find an important article, ask a librarian for other options.

CAUTION:   If you consistently use Google Scholar (and regular Google) on the same  computer, it brings up results that the system thinks you will like based on your previous searches.  That means you might miss a really good article.  The easy way to get around this is to use a school or work computer when you need to make sure you’ve got all possible sources.   The less easy way is to clear your history, cookies, etc.  You can also try a search engine that doesn’t track your searches, such as duckduckgo; however, it doesn’t list many scholarly articles.


The second important scholarly search engine is Pubmed.  Unlike Google Scholar, Pubmed  focuses on the health sciences, which limits its usefulness in other fields.  Pubmed does list historical articles, but they are related to the history of medicine.  If you are writing a paper on Typhoid Mary or cholera and the westward movement or the Black Death, check Pubmed.

Pubmed has the full text of many articles available free of charge to everyone.

Accessing PubMed (PMC)

Accessing PubMed (PMC)
Courtesy NIH.

Searching PubMed (PMC)

Searching PubMed (PMC)
Courtesy NIH


In most cases, you can find what you need on PubMed.  However, if you want to search a broader range of articles, try PubMed/Medline.   This database has some fulltext.  You need to go through the Stewart Library link to see what’s available.  PubMed/Medline is listed on the Article Databases page under “P” or the various “Health” subjects.

The scholarly search engines can be very useful back ups for the library databases; however, they do not replace library databases.  In most cases, you need to start with library databases.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Finding, citing & evaluating books: finding

The purpose of this course is, again, to make it easier for you to find the kinds of information your instructors are asking for.  While articles and web pages are fairly easy for most people to find, books are another story.    Since this is an online course, I don’t believe it’s fair to ask people to come to the library to get a book.

So, I’ve chosen to show you how to decide if a book is worth reading when all the information you have is what you can find online.

If you can evaluate a book with nothing but the information you can find online, doing so with an actual book in your hands (or on your phone, tablet, etc.) should be easy.



Libraries contain all kinds of sources, including books, ebooks, CDs, DVDs, games, etc.  How do you find them?   There are several ways:

  • Use the catalog of a specific library, such as WSU’s Stewart Library  – this is the easy way to begin.  Stewart Library’s catalog contains print books and a few online books.
  • Don’t see what you’re looking for there?  Check out our eBooks page.  We have over 140,000 books on Ebsco eBooks alone.  Most of the library’s ebooks must be read on your computer:  Ebsco eBooks is the only place you can download ebooks to a tablet, ereader,  or phone as well as a computer.
  • Then, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, try Worldcat.
  • Worldcat is a catalog of all the books from most U.S. libraries and some international libraries.   There is a free version, but it’s best to use our subscription version because you get a lot more information and it does things like fill out interlibrary loan forms for you.  You must use the subscription version to answer any assignment questions.
  • You can use Google Scholar.   One of the advantages of using Google Scholar is the  cited by feature.  When you click on the cited by link, it provides a list of other sources that cite the first source in their bibliography or reference list.  This is an easy way to find other sources on your topic.
Image showing Google Scholar's "Cite by" feature.

Courtesy of Google.

  • You can use Google Books.  This is a good way to find free online books.  The catch here is most free books are dated 1923 or earlier because of copyright law.  You will find later books listed, but will still have to use the catalog or Worldcat to look them up, so you might as well start with the catalog or Worldcat. Occasionally, you can find a more recent book that allows you to look at a number of excerpts.   A few will give you 60 pages or more.

Avoid the temptation to use these excerpts as  sources because:

    • It’s considered cheating to pull pieces from a book that’s only partially available on Google Books (or any other site).  While you don’t always need to read an entire book, you should have the whole book available.
      • If you don’t have the whole book available, you may completely miss the author’s point
      • Before using a book as a source for a paper or research project, you need to have any appendices, the index and any back matter (see below) to evaluate the book properly.
  • You can use the Internet Archive.  The Internet Archive is working to archive, or store, all kinds of online information.  This includes ebooks, both pre-1923 as well as some newer ones, video, audio, web pages, etc.  Click the menu links at the top of the page to access a specific search page for each type of source.  You can also use Project Gutenberg, which was the first online library of free books (it predates Google by years); however, I believe most people will find the Internet Archive easier to use.
    • Just for fun:  have the URL for a web page that no longer works?  Put it into the Wayback Machine and see if you can find a copy.  Click on blue highlighted dates to see snapshots.  (NOTE:  some sites have removed their information from the Archive.)
  • You can  use Amazon to find a recent book on your topic, but Amazon may  not list older, possibly useful, books on your topic AND you will still have to use a catalog to find them, unless you want to buy the book.  If you’re not sure of the title of a book, CD or DVD, Amazon is a good place to check.
  • You can do a Google or Bing, etc., search and hope a book comes up.
    • This is usually a good way to waste a lot of time.


We’re going to look at catalogs in this reading. A catalog lists what a library owns physically, for example:  print books, CDs, DVDs, etc. It also lists what a library owns access to such as online journals, ebooks, streaming music, and streaming video.   Our library catalog is available via the Stewart Library website.  To access it, click on the yellow book icon, then click on the advance search link underneath the search box.   You do not need to login to use it.  As I said above, it contains only print books and a few links to online books that haven’t been removed yet.

NOTE:  we’ve recently subscribed to the academic collection from Ebsco ebooks.  Our Ebsco eBooks contains about 140,000 ebooks on all topics.  You can download them to your computer,  phone, tablet or ebook reader.  To find these books, go to the library’s home page:  In the center column, click on eBooks   Ebsco eBooks shows up a number of different places on the eBooks page.

One very important characteristic of a catalog is that it contains large chunks of information:  Whole books,  complete DVDs,  entire CDs. This means that when you search a catalog, you will often need to use broader, or fewer, keywords & key phrases.  You may also need to use different keywords than you will use searching for articles or websites.

When I say broader keywords, I do not mea using one or two unfocused keywords, but rather focusing on the core of your research question and not the details.

For example:  I’m interested in Alexander the Great and why he decided to conquer the world.  I try searching for “Alexander the Great’ AND “world conquest” AND reasons.  After trying a number of searches, “Alexander the Great”and empire found the best books.

In order to search  a library catalog successfully, you need to use boolean and phrase searching.

A quick refresher:

  • AND search (= all of the words)  – an AND search tells the computer to find sources where all of the words you type in appear – this is the default search on Google and many library databases. Not sure if you need to add in AND?  Try the search without AND; if you don’t find much, then add the AND between keywords.
  • OR search (= any of the words) – an OR search tells the computer to find sources where at least one of the words you typed appears.  Some OR search are actually “any of the words” and “all of the words”  searches.  The easiest way to see what they’re finding is to look at your search results.  If you have at least 2 search terms appear in one result, then you have an “any or all of the words” search.
    • Always use a capital OR.  You must capitalize OR when using Google and many library databases, so it’s best just to get into the habit of typing OR.
    • IMPORTANT NOTE:  if you combine two or more words with OR, be sure to put parentheses around the words.  For example:  (adolescent OR teen).  If you leave the parentheses off, you will get weird (and bad) results.
  • NOT search   (= missing the word/words that appear after NOT)  a NOT search is very tricky to use.  You can lose good sources when you use a NOT search.
    • For example:  you need articles on teaching French.  For some reason you are getting a lot of articles on teaching Spanish.  You type the search French NOT Spanish.  You miss the perfect source because it’s  on teaching both French and Spanish. (If you are getting a whole lot of articles, then go ahead and use NOT.)
  • Phrase search (= search for ALL the words inside quotation marks, include “the,” “of,” and other little words).  This can be a really useful search, but you need to be sure to use good phrases.   “Cultural heritage” is a good phrase because you expect to see those words together in that order.  “The destruction of cultural heritage” is not a good phrase because you didn’t use words that people expect to be together.
    • One way to judge a phrase is to search for a book or an article.  If you only find a few books, then the phrase is probably not a good one.  Take the separate words (and sometime phrases) and combine them using AND.
      • For example:  use  destruction AND “cultural heritage” instead of “The destruction of cultural heritage”

Do you have to capitalize AND, OR, & NOT?   More and more library databases and other search engines are requiring you to capitalize, so you might well get into the habit. Right about now, you’re probably asking why you have to use boolean and thinking you can find sources without it (the technical term for searching without boolean or phrases is natural language searching).  That may be true a lot of the time.  You have to know boolean because:

  • You need to know how to do boolean searching for the times when natural language searching doesn’t find anything
  • Even when natural language searching works, you can use boolean techniques to save yourself from having to wade through thousands of  sources.  
  • You have to know how to use boolean searching to pass the last assignments.

You may also be thinking, why bother to use a library catalog or subscription Worldcat.  There are a couple of reasons:

  •  Information in library databases, including subscription Worldcat,  is much more structured than information just out on the web.  Structured information makes it possible for you to search in many different ways such as:  keyword, subject, author, publisher and more.  It also allows you to limit the sources that are found by date, format, location, etc.
  • Because the data is structured, if you use a good search, you will find the sources you need much more quickly then you can when using Google Books, etc.


Now you know where to search and how to search, you’re ready to try it in the real world.  I’ll continue to use the Elgin Marbles question because it provides a better example.

My research question is: Did Lord Elgin’s contemporaries consider his acquisition of the Parthenon marbles legal?  The keywords/phrases I developed are:  “Elgin Marbles,” controversy, acquisition, legality, contemporary.  

My alternative keywords are: ”Parthenon marbles,”   debate, “nineteenth century.”

The first examples are from the Stewart Library catalog, because that’s the one you will be using the most.   See the assignment example for how to search Worldcat.

  • I always start by typing all of my keywords/phrases in the general keyword box, just in case I get lucky.  Since catalogs have big chunks of information, typing in all my main keywords/phrases will probably be too focused.  
  • As I suspected, my keywords were too focused.  Next, I’m going to try searching the most important keywords/phrases, which are “Elgin Marbles” and controversy.  
  • I could have tried contemporary instead of controversy, because Lord Elgin’s purchase of the marbles was controversial to many of the people of his time, but I used controversy because sources about the controversy usually give the history of the controversy.  Using contemporary might just find what’s going on now.  (I don’t need to type AND because I know most library catalogs and databases assume you want AND between each word.)
  • Elgin marbles” controversy doesn’t find anything.  Neither does “Elgin marbles” contemporary.  I tried using “Parthenon Marbles”  instead of “Elgin Marbles.  No luck.   I try “Elgin marbles.” 

When I search, I find one source.  (Typing in “Parthenon Marbles” produces the same book.)  Since I only find one, the system takes me to a screen with information about the book (it is a book.)  This information is called a record.  Catalog records include information about the title, the author, the year of publication and for newer books, content notes.  They also list special formats, such as CDs, DVDs, etc. At the bottom of the page, there is information on which library has the book  (we have a small library on the Davis campus), the collection and the call number.  You need this information to find the book in either library.

Catalog record showing one book.

Catalog record showing one book.
Courtesy SirsiDynix

I notice the date of the book is 1960.  Even for earlier periods of history, it’s better to start with newer books.  New information is discovered all the time, even in ancient history. I decide to do another search.  I know that the Elgin Marbles are from a Greek temple called the Parthenon.  I also know (and you could ask someone) that most recent books on the Parthenon include a section of the Elgin Marbles controversy. I get the list below.

Catalog results list

Results list from a catalog search.
Courtesy SirsiDynix

  • I know (because I order books in this area) that the first book would probably have something.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t arrived yet.  (NOTE:   in real life, you can use Interlibrary Loan and we will borrow the book for you from another library.)
  • The second book, which I ordered (and also own a personal copy of) is a funny, but accurate, fake travel guide to ancient Athens.   It will not have the information I need. How do you tell the book isn’t serious if you haven’t read it?  One big clue is the cover – serious books do not show ancient statues with modern luggage.
  • The third option is a videorecording, specifically, a DVD.  The record tells me it’s a PBS video, so it’s probably decent quality.  The notes tell me that it talks about the Elgin Marbles.  I decide that the DVD will work. NOTE:  For this class, you may use a DVD or VHS on your topic instead of a book.   Always clear using a video with your  instructor.  Many will not qallowvideos as sources.
Record for Parthenon DVD.

Record for Parthenon DVD.
Courtesy of SirsiDynix

  • If my  instructor didn’t allow me to use videos, I could click on the subject heading links to try to find more books. In this case, there is one other approach I could take.
  •  Instead of looking for books on the Elgin Marbles, I could look for a book on Lord Elgin.  Lord Elgin is a title.  To find books about him, I need to know the rest of his name, which is Thomas Bruce.  I would actually search for him under the keywords:  Elgin, Thomas Bruce.
    • NOTE:  be careful when searching for people who are usually known by a title.  Library catalogs and databases have very specific ways of formatting names.  You may need to play around to find the right combination.

Example:  Queen Elizabeth I or St. Barbara are in the catalog as:  Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Barbara, Saint.

  • In some cases, we simply don’t have a book on a subject (try combinations of your keywords or different keywords before giving up.  You can ask a librarian for help too.)
  • If we don’t have a book, you will need to either use Worldcat, Google Books, etc. to find more books and borrow them using Interlibrary Loan OR use more articles instead of books.
    • NOTE:  you could also check out what the U, USU and BYU have.  Your Weber Wildcard can be used to check out books at other Utah  universities.
  • Do it the easy way:  using the bibliography of a Wikipedia article to find sources is one of the valid academic uses of Wikipedia. Make sure the book you choose is fairly new.  Choose older books only if they are primary sources or otherwise valuable (ask your instructor or a librarian).  The bibliography/reference list is also one way to judge the quality of a Wikipedia article.  Good articles have good bibliographies or reference lists. I looked at the reference list and found:
Reference from the Wikipedia article: "Elgin Marbles."

Reference from the Wikipedia article: “Elgin Marbles.”
Courtesy Wikipedia.

  • I know it’s a book, because it has a publisher, Oxford University Press.  A journal article would have an article title, journal name plus volume and page numbers.
  • I look at the description on Amazon and check out the table of contents, etc. and the book looks perfect.  The fact that it’s published by a university press means it’s probably good quality.
  •  I fill out the interlibrary loan form, get the book in about 5-7 working days, read the part that interests me. (I also scan it and the information  I need for evaluation so I have a copy if I need it)  and use it for my paper.  (If you start with Wikipedia, check our library catalog before using interlibrary loan – we might have it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Finding Information: Books

Finding, citing & evaluating books: citing

Books are generally the easiest type of source to cite.  There are exceptions:  translations, special editions and the like can add complexity to an otherwise simple format.

As before,  the  OWL at Pturdue University  is a really good online guide to the most common styles.   Remember:  for Turabian, you’ll need to use the Chicago Style.

Notes give credit for a specific quotation,  interpretation, or other piece of information used in the body of a paper, presentation, etc.  Notes are also called footnotes, endnotes and parenthetical or author-date references.
Each type of note is, of course,  formatted differently.  There are specialized styles where the citation and the note are combined into a footnote or (rarely) endnote.   These styles are used mainly by historians and in some scientific publications.
NOTE:  Chicago/Turabian no longer includes the citation/footnote style.  Most faculty who require Chicago/Turabian use the note/bibliography (humanities)  style.  For this class, using Turabian means using the note/bibliography (humanities) style.
Word, just to make things difficult, calls notes citations.
Citations give credit to a source as a whole – a whole book, a whole article, a whole web page, etc.  Citations are also called bibliographic citations or references.   Every note should have a matching citation in the bibliography (or reference list or works cited list.)    Also list sources you consulted, even if you don’t need to use a note. (Exception:  you can leave out sources that you used only for general background, such as encyclopedias.)  
Not sure whether to include a citation?  Better safe than sorry:  include it.
Word, continuing to be difficult,  calls  citations sources in a bibliography or sources in a works cited list.
Remember that Word usage is:
  • Citation =  what most people call a note (including endnotes and footnotes)
  • Source in a bibliography, reference list or works cited list =  what most people call a citation, bibliographic citation or reference.
A bibliography is a list of sources consulted when writing a paper, preparing a presentation, research project etc.   A bibliography can be called a reference list or a works cited list.
Book citation patterns
Authorlastname, first name & any initials. Title of Book. Publisher location: Publisher name, date of publication.  Medium of publication.
Mediums are usually Print or Web.  For a complete list, see
Authorlastname, first initials. (Date of publication). Title of book. Publisher location: Publisher name.
CHICAGO/TURABIAN      Bibliography/Humanities
Authorlastname, first name.  Title of Book.  Publisher location:  Publisher name, date of publication.
Book citation examples
For all citation styles, the second and any following lines should be indented 5 spaces.  Use the hanging indent feature on your word processor.
IMPORTANT NOTE:It is very difficult to get the proper indent and spacing on the blog or on Canvas, so don’t worry about that.  Make sure the information is formatted correctly, but you don’t need to indent or double space.

Ward-Perkins, Bryan.  The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 2006.  Print.

With hanging indent & double spacing


Example of MLA book citation with double spacing & hanging indent.

Example of MLA book citation with double spacing & hanging indent.


Ward-Perkins, B. (2006.) The fall of Rome and the end of civilization.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

With hanging indent:

Example of a book with a single author in APA style.

Example of a book with a single author in APA style.



Ward-Perkins, Bryan.  The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 2006.

With hanging indent:

Example of a book citation in Chicago/Turabian bibliography/humanitie style.

Example of a book citation in Chicago/Turabian bibliography/humanities style.

These examples show a very basic book citation.  If you  have multiple authors, editors, revised editions, are using a chapter within a book, a translation, etc., you will need to add that information to your citation.  Check with the OWL@Purdue for specific examples.


First, you need to make sure that MLA 7th and APA 6th are options on your style box if you want to use those styles.   If you have updated Word when prompted, both should be available for Word 2010  and Word 2007.  They should show up automatically in Word 2013.  If not, you’ll need to apply outstanding updates.  You can start here:  Word 2003 users are out of luck – I suggest you (and Word 2007 – 2010 people) use one of the free systems available on the web such as EasyBib or eTurabian (scroll down for APA and MLA.)

Using Word for Chicago/Turabian.  It’s complicated.  Word 365 has Chicago 16th, which is the most recent, but it only has Turabian 6th, which is two editions old.  You can try using Chicago, but in my experience, it won’t work that well.

It is much better to use eTurabian, which also does both kinds of notes as well as citations.

Whatever automated system you use, you will  need to fill out the correct boxes with the correct information.

Remember, Word uses different terminology
  • Notes = citations
  • Citations = sources in bibliographies, reference lists or works cited lists
picture of how to set up Word to do bibliographies and citations.

Start the process. Courtesy of Microsoft.

The next step in using Word to do notes and citations.

Step 2. Courtesy of Microsoft.

Once you click on Add New Source, you will get a screen with boxes.
  • Fill in the boxes with your source information.
  • See the slides later in the reading for examples

  • Choose the type of source
  • Each source will have different blanks to fill in
  • Have blank boxes?  For books, there are two main possibilities:  
    • You  chose the wrong  source type
    • You didn’t collect necessary information
Using Word to do APA book citations.

APA basic format for books.
Courtesy of Microsoft.

How to fill out Word boxes to do a book citation.Filling out the boxes for an APA 6th citation.
Courtesy of Microsoft.


  • Choose the type of source
  • Each source will have different blanks to fill in
  • Have blank boxes?  For books, there are two main possibilities:  
    • You  chose the wrong  source type
    • You didn’t collect necessary information
  • On older versions of Word, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the sources box to get additional boxes including the medium of publication.  This is not necessary on later versions.
How to start a book citation, MLA 7th, using Word.

Using Word to format a book in MLA 7th edition.
Courtesy of Microsoft.

Example of a book citation, MLA 7th, using Word.Courtesy of Microsoft.

Example of a book citation, MLA 7th, using Word.
Courtesy of Microsoft.



  • For most citation styles you will need to check the box:  Show all Bibliography Fields
  • It will not correct spelling errors
  • It will not capitalize correctly – you must do that
  • If you’ve got a fussy instructor, double check and then check again.
  • The system is often incorrect

The most common problem is putting information in the wrong boxes.


Go to the eTurabian site (they also do APA and MLA)

Using eTurabian 1

Courtesy eTurabian

Next choose your style.  Additional formats are available from the list in the center (7th edition).

How to use eTurabian 2

Courtesy eTurbian

Fill out the form.  Be sure to check the box above the title asking about capitalization. Use pages numbers only if you are doing a note.  For a citation, leave those boxes blank.  Then click submit.

How to use eTurabian 3

Courtesy eTurabian

Copy the formatted citation into Word.

How to use eTurabian4

Courtesy eturabian

As with Word, the most common mistake using any system is putting information in the wrong box.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Finding Information: Books

Finding, citing & evaluating books: evaluating

Why do you have to evaluate books found in a university library?  Aren’t they all good?

Unfortunately, no.  University libraries strive to buy the best books they can.  However, information ages: new data renders older theories and interpretations useless, and well-known  authors, such as the late Stephen Ambrose, are caught plagiarizing.  University libraries also buy books for courses on topics such as pseudoscience.

Pseudoscience & pseudohistory books can be difficult to identify unless you’re an expert in the field.  The authors of such books present evidence to support their views;  they just don’t adhere to commonly accepted scholarly methods and requirements for evidence, or claim that evidence contrary to their beliefs is made up.  Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Godsis a classic example of of pseudoscience.  Books by Holocaust deniers are an example of pseudohistory.

You need to evaluate books for other reasons as well.  You need to determine if the book is relevant for your needs, if it is current enough,  if it contains quality information and if it’s the right kind of source (scholarly/popular and primary/secondary) for your assignment.

You may also want to evaluate a book to decide if it’s worth spending your time on it.  Reading a book is a definite time commitment.


The reading on Evaluation discussed criteria for evaluating different sources.  You need to keep the chart from the Evaluation reading in mind and consider those factors.  In this reading, we’re going to look at determining if the book is scholarly or popular.


Check out the cover and title.  You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, BUT the cover plus the title will often give a hint as to whether it’s popular or scholarly. 

Probably Scholarly

  • Cover is plain, or uses a piece of art or a photograph related to the subject of the book
  • Title suggests a work aimed at an audience of specialists.  For example:

    Example of a scholarly book cover

    Example of a scholarly book cover

Probably popular

  • Covers have bright interesting art of different types in order to attract buyers.
  • Non-fiction titles suggest a work that will interest readers with a variety of interests and backgrounds.

NOTE:  It can be very difficult to tell if history books are popular or scholarly.  As a general rule, the scholarly books will have significantly more notes and references and more extensive use of primary sources.   Sources in a foreign language are less likely to be translated.

Popular book cover

Popular book cover

Possibly trade

  • Covers can look like popular or scholarly, so you need to check the title.
  • Title should contain a hint that the work has a practical, how-to orientation

    Trade book cover

    Trade book cover


The book cover shown below is primary and scholarly.

Cover of a book that looks popular, but is scholarly & popular.Courtesy of Amazon.

Cover of a book that looks popular, but is scholarly &  primary.
Courtesy of Amazon.


  • Do they have a degree in the field that they’re writing about?
  • Are they affiliated with a university, museum, or other reputable group?
  • What is their reputation in their field?  (You’ll need to use a search engine to find out)
  • Look for where they work,  a brief bio on  a university department web page, lists other publications, etc.

Authors who meet all or most of the criteria above are most likely scholarly.  Popular books are often written by journalists and others without academic credentials.   Some popular books are written by experts who are presenting their work in an easily understandable fashion and, just to make things difficult,  some journalists write books with the rigor expected of those with extensive academic credentials.

You’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to find all of this information.   (Yes, you are expected to track down this kind of information.)
  • Find and read:  forewords, afterwords, cover blurbs,  etc. – they often have useful information.  This is why you need the whole book even if you don’t read all of it.  Don’t even think of grabbing a couple of pages  off of Google books unless you can find enough information about the author and the rest of the book.
  • Check the editorial reviews on Barnes and Noble  (they usually have the best editorial reviews) or Amazon.
  • Barnes and Noble editorial reviews often give author affiliation – click on the Overview tab.  (You may need to scroll down.)

    Example of author information from Barnes & Noble.

    Example of author information from Barnes & Noble.
    Courtesy Barnes & Noble.

  • You can look at reader reviews, but you must be very careful using them.  Drop the one  star and five-star reviews.  Look for the two – four star reviews that say specifically why they did or didn’t like the book AND that give examples from the book.
  • Read book reviews.  Academic Search Premier and JSTOR are good places to look for book reviews.  Most subject databases will also have reviews of books in those subject areas.
  • You can ask a professor.  Just be aware that they have their biases too.
  • You can try Wikipedia or do a search, but then you have to be concerned about the quality of the information that you find.
If the author is an academic and/or has scholarly credentials, the book is probably scholarly. Even if popular, it is probably a well done book.  And yes, journalists can write books that are good enough and well documented enough to be called scholarly.  Check with your professor before using one of these – some instructors don’t want books unless they’re written by academic historians.
 Check out the publisher of a book.  Books are usually scholarly if they are published by:
  •  A university press.  University presses usually include the word “university” in their name.
    For example:  Oxford University Press, University of Chicago Press, etc.
  • A professional organization.  The words “association,”  “society,”  “institute,” and related terms will usually appear in the name.
    For example: the  Modern Language Association and the Geological Society of America.
  • Trade books are often published by professional organizations and some specialty publishers.
  • There are also some important publishing companies that specialize in academic books.
    For example:  Wiley, Elsevier, ABC-CLIO, and Routledge.
  • In addition to specialty publishers, many of the large publishing companies, such as HarperCollins, have an academic branch.


Front matter is the stuff before you get to the actual book content.  If your book includes a foreword, introduction, prologue, prolegomenon, etc. that discusses the authors and their work AND there is a detailed table of contents,  this is a strong indication that the book is scholarly.
The stuff at the back of the book, after the main content, is called back matter.  Good indicators of a scholarly book include:
  • afterword – this is similar to a foreword, but is at the end of the book.  Often, an author will give more information as to why s/he wrote the book the way they did.
  • references, works cited or bibliography
    NOTE:  for history books and older books in all field, check for footnotes that include bibliographic information (citations).
  • appendices (singular = appendix).  An appendix contains additional  information that supports the author’s thesis, but doesn’t really fit into the main body of the book.
  • an extensive index.  Popular books frequently have a fairly short index that links to the major topics.  In most scholarly books,  you can find reference to a large number of small, sub-topics as well.
  • maps or illustrations (these can also be listed in the front matter – occasionally, they are part of the front matter, they can also be in the body of the book) Are maps, illustrations, photos, etc. good quality and well labeled?
Remember that these criteria are indicators.  The more of the indicators listed above  a book has, the more likely it is scholarly.  The fewer the indicators,  the more likely the book is popular.  Trade books should have the practical, how- to orientation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Finding Information: Books

Information types & formats 1: sources classified by audience

Why do you need to learn about types and formats of information?  Well, for one, it’s one of the learning outcomes for this class.  More importantly,  the inability to find and use the right kinds of sources is one of the major roadblocks between students and good grades on history  (& other) papers.  Finally, the more you know about finding the right kinds of sources, the easier it is to find and identify them.

This reading introduces the main types and formats of information in all fields, including history.  As you’ll discover later in the reading,  history sources are not as easy to distinguish as those in other fields.  Future readings will look at more specific types of sources.

Information Formats

Let’s start with the easy part:  formats.  The word format has a number of meanings; for this post, we’re looking at the format or makeup or composition of something.  The most common formats you’ll deal with doing academic research are print and online; however, there are others such as  CDs, DVDs, streaming music & videos, and microforms.

Most instructors accept a variety of formats as long as you choose relevant sources of the correct information type.

Information Types

There are three basic ways to divide information types for academic purposes.  These are:

  1. sources classified by audience
  2. sources classified by closeness
  3. sources classified by quality measure

These classifications refer to non-fiction (with a few rare exceptions.)

Sources classified by audience

The three main types of sources classified by audience are:

  1. popular
  2. scholarly (also known as peer reviewed or refereed)
  3. trade

Popular sources are those that are created for the general public.  They may be any format:  print, online, DVD, etc.

Popular sources:

  • are written in every day language; if there are technical or unusual terms, the terms are defined & examples given
  • are often written on broad topics or as an introduction to a topic.  Usually  written by journalists or freelance writers  or “anonymous” (usually an editor or staff writer.)
  • rarely have notes or bibliographies (reference lists).  Some will have lists that contain suggestions for further reading and/or notes that provide more information on the content
  • are often very colorful with a lot of illustrations and photos
  • are found in grocery stores, bookstores and airports in addition to libraries.  Many are also available on the web.
  • may be print or online books, magazines, and newspapers, or general websites.


Scholarly sources are those that are created for experts and for students studying the subject area.  They may be any format:  print, online, DVDs etc.

Scholarly sources:

  • are written by experts in the field
  • are written for an audience of other experts (and students who have to learn the information)
  • are usually peer reviewed or refereed
    • this means they been judged by a panel of fellow experts and found worthy of publication
  • have notes and a reference list or bibliography
    • in some history and arts and humanities sources, there is no bibliography or reference list.  All the necessary information is given in footnotes.
  • are often published by, or in conjunction with,  universities, museums or other institutions
    • they may also be published by specialty academic publishers such as Oxford, Wiley or Elsevier
  • most common types are: journal articles and books, either print or online
  • there are also a few scholarly websites

 All scholarly sources have the things listed above in common.  However,  there are differences between scholarly sources in the sciences, technology & engineering, social science and professional fields and scholarly sources in history and the arts & humanities.

Scholarly sources in the science, technical, social science and professional fields (health, business, etc.)

  • Report on experiments, studies or research performed by the authors
  • Are usually written about a very narrow, focused topic
    • literature reviews are an exception:  they review previous research on a topic
  • Use technical language with a lot of specialized words

Scholarly sources in history and the arts & humanities

  • are written about original research on an historical, literary, artistic or performance topic
  • are usually focused, but occasionally cover broad topics
  • rarely use technical language; instead, they use formal, academic language


Trade sources are written for practitioners in a field.  They focus more on “how-to” information.  They may be any format.

Trade sources:

  • contain practical, how-to information as well as information about the field, such as best practices, finding a job, rules and regulations, etc.
  • may have some scholarly research articles, but focus is practical
  • use language and terms specific to that field 
  • are often produced by professional associations or publishers who specialize in the field

NOTE:  the line between scholarly, popular and trade can be hard to determine.  In some fields, such as health science, education and criminal justice, an instructor may allow you to use a well- researched trade article in place of a scholarly article – ASK FIRST!


Other types of sources classified by audience

  • Textbooks
    • are usually in a category by themselves
    • are closest to trade, since they are teaching students about a field
    • as a rule, you should not use textbooks as a source for academic research
  • Newsletters
    • news about a subject or profession
    • can be very general: for example, news about science
    • can be very specific: for example, news for passenger airline pilots
    • always popular or trade, never scholarly
  • Reviews

    • opinion pieces about books, movies, music, plays, etc.

    • can be found in scholarly, popular or trade publications in print and on the web
    • b

      ook reviews in scholarly journals are NOT scholarly

    • Use reviews for background information, do NOT use them for academic research

      • Exception: people researching performing arts productions often use reviews of productions

  • Editorials, opinion pieces, letters

    • o

      pinions by different people on a variety of subjects

    • c

      an be found in scholarly, popular or trade publications in print and on the web

    • c

      an be used as examples in academic research – not as articles

    • t

      hey are popular or trade even if they appear in a scholarly publication

Leave a comment

Filed under Information Types & Formats