Organization, intended audience, length, and publication standards define the format type of information. Each format presents information in a different way and with a different purpose. A well-rounded research project will consult multiple format types.
Books exist in print, electronic, and audio formats. Some electronic books have interactive properties making them a form of multimedia. Books are typically organized the same way: front cover, title page, copyright page, table of contents, chapters, index, and then a back cover. In academic libraries, many physical and electronic books are scholarly in nature, intended for research, and undergo the peer-review process before publication. Other books are a source of popular information meant to entertain or inform rather than provide a citable source. Length of books can vary from ten pages to multi-volume sets of thousands of pages.
Retailers and libraries are the main source of printed books. Our Omni academic search tool allows you to search the contents of Brock University Library for available titles. You can access electronic books (ebooks) through retailers, libraries, and websites. Project Gutenberg provides books in the public domain that can be downloaded for free to any device. Google Books also has a collection of ebooks, however most are only partially available through “snippets” or “previews.” Brock University Library has a variety of ebook options including online (ebooks) that are accessed through a database like Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Academic journals often have both print and electronic versions. Print journals will have a cover, table of contents, articles, and limited to no advertisements. Academic journals consist of separate articles that can be lengthy in comparison to magazines and newspaper articles. Most articles begin with an abstract, or summary of the work, and conclude with a bibliography, works cited, or reference list of sources consulted or cited. You may also find appendices in the articles that have additional or non-essential information like maps, data tables, graphs, or images.
Most print and electronic academic journals are available through paid subscriptions only. Many publishers will sell specific issues or articles as well. Google Scholar and the Directory of Open Access Journals are sources of freely accessible journal articles, although coverage and currency of articles vary. The most comprehensive place to find academic journal articles is through library databases where you can search and access millions of full-text articles. Academic Search Complete is a library database you can use to search through nearly eight-thousand academic journals on a variety of subjects from one location.
Magazines entertain and inform a general audience and will frequently discuss current events. Journalists or other professional writers typically author magazine articles rather than subject experts. Magazines will use language that is familiar and understandable to most readers and may offer an opinion or point of view in their coverage. Magazines are a popular source of information because they appeal to a large audience, are not generally peer-reviewed, and may be opinion based. Some magazines fall under the category of trade publications because they provide practical information to individuals working in a particular field or industry.
Magazines are available in both print and electronic versions. Print magazines will have a cover, table of contents, articles, and advertisements. Many magazines maintain websites with freely available articles enriched with multimedia content like videos. The articles may be reproductions of print editions or new stories only found online. There are even magazines that exist entirely online with no print version. Some magazines, however, protect content behind a “paywall” where only paid subscribers can view their content. A library database like Canadian Business & Current Affairs allows students to by-pass paywalls and view full-text magazines articles.
Similar to magazines, newspapers provide information for a wide audience, cover current topics, and are a good source of popular information. In newspapers you will find articles that cover factual events and other articles that are opinion-based like letters to the editor, editorials, and op-eds (“opposite the editorial page”) columns. Newspaper articles tend to be much shorter than magazines articles and will often contain information about primary source events: who, what, when, where, and why.
Newspapers are usually available in print and electronic versions, on a daily or weekly basis – sometimes with multiple editions per day. Organized into sections denoted by a number and letter, print and electronic newspaper pages usually begin with headline news (section A1). The individual sections, like sports, arts, or events, will vary depending on the audience and amount of content of the newspaper. Many newspapers have online versions, or websites, where they post regularly updated content. Archival content of newspapers is typically not fully accessible online and may require payment to read the entire content. Library databases, like Canadian Major Dailies, have full-text access of current and archived newspaper content for most major Canadian newspapers.
Many video and audio recordings provide good information for use in a research project. Depending on the content, video and audio could contain popular, scholarly, or trade information. For example, an educational video about the Civil War with photos and interviews with historians is a scholarly source. In contrast, a drama about a family in Civil War times is a popular source of information because its main purpose is to entertain. Video and audio are also sources of primary and secondary information. Primary sources of video and audio are interviews, music recordings, recordings of historic events, and live-action film. Secondary sources of video and audio are documentaries and educational films or radio programs. Video and audio materials include CDs, DVDs, film and television programs, streaming media on the Web, or digital files. You can also find videos through library databases like Kanopy.
Government documents are information generated by provincial, local, and national levels of the government. They include a wide range of current and historical information like laws, annual reports, policies, research reports, and statistics. Government documents are authoritative, credible sources of information to use in research. In addition, government documents are generally primary sources of information.
Many government documents are available online through government agency websites such as the Government of Ontario or Statistics Canada. Consult the Brock University Library's Government & Legal Information Research Guide for key resources.
Grey (or “gray”) literature is informally published material written by experts or researchers in a field. It is non-commercial information produced by organizations, advocacy groups, research labs, government agencies, and independent scholars. Examples of grey literature include conference proceedings, technical reports, clinical trials, data sets, graduate school dissertations, professors’ lecture notes, department newsletters, or blog postings from credentialed experts.
The goal of grey literature is usually to inform or influence an opinion on a topic. Most grey literature is from the medical and scientific communities, however it can be found in other subject areas. The term “grey” refers to the undefined, or uncategorized, nature of the information. Grey literature does not fall under the categories of popular, scholarly, or trade sources. Some grey literature, like clinical trials and data sets, are primary sources of information. Most other grey literature, however, is a secondary source of information. Even if you do not include grey literature as references in your project, they can be valuable as alternative perspectives or updates to ongoing research in the field.
Websites are the leading form of electronic information available, and many websites incorporate some form of multimedia presentation. Virtually any information retrieved in a Google search comes from a website. While most publication, material, and format types are accessible online, the quality, coverage, and purpose of these sources will vary significantly. There is a lot of great information online but because of the wide range of sources, it is increasingly important to scrutinize the information you find on websites.