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SPC 120: Research Tutorial

Different Information Types

Man reading in a Seattle newsstandAs the video on the information cycle revealed, you will encounter many different types of published materials in your research such as popular magazines, scholarly journals, books, encyclopedias, and more. Here is a summary of the different source types you will encounter.

Image: 2010 Newsstand Seattle by John Henderson from Seattle, USA. [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Item Types & Examples Audience & Use


  • New York Times
  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Wall St. Journal
  • The Reporter (Lansdale)
  • Current Information
  • News stories, features
  • Opinion and commentary
  • Texts of speeches, etc.
  • Many newspapers have a regional or local focus

Popular Magazines

  • Glamour
  • National Geographic
  • Psychology Today
  • Rolling Stone
  • Focused toward the general public
  • Usually oriented to pleasure reading
  • Numerous ads, photos
  • Shorter articles/Broad overviews

News Magazines

  • The Economist
  • Newsweek
  • Time
  • Nontechnical language
  • Current events, overviews
  • Photographs, graphs
  • Book, movie reviews

Opinion Magazines

  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Christian Century
  • New Republic
  • National Review
  • Educated audience
  • Particular viewpoint
  • Commentary on politics and society
  • Book, movie reviews, interviews

Trade Magazines

  • Advertising Age
  • Chief Executive
  • Community Banker
  • Restaurants & Institutions
  • Written for practitioners in specific occupations
  • Product information and ads
  • Current trends and practices
  • Meetings, jobs, personalities

Scholarly Journals

  • Child Development
  • Journal of Alcohol Studies
  • Journal of Pediatric Nursing
  • Science
  • Studies in Short Fiction
  • Technical language of the field
  • Often non profit (no ads)
  • Charts, graphs, technical drawings
  • Reports of original research
  • Works cited, references
  • Research methods, results, discussions, literature reviews


  • Popular Fiction: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.
  • Literary Fiction: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.
  • Popular Non-Fiction: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Scholarly Non-Fiction: Existential Threats American Apocalyptic Beliefs in the Technological Era by Lisa Vox
  • Long-read in format, but content varies as widely as magazines.
  • Non-fiction books provide in-depth analysis of a subject.
  • Scholarly books are aimed at academic readers often addressing advanced research
  • Not as current as periodical articles. 
  • Popular books are written for the general public and often aim to make complicated topics understandable.

Research Starters (aka reference material)

  • General Encyclopedias: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia (great source for getting started but double check all facts as publicly edited)
  • Subject Encyclopedias: Psychology & Behavioral Health, Encyclopedia of Energy
  • Issue Briefs: CQ Researcher, reference articles in Opposing Viewpoints.  
  • Great place to learn the basics about a new topic.
  • Often written by a topic specialist.
  • Often lists additional references. 
  • We have both print and electronic reference works.

Google vs. Library Resources

The internet is like an iceberg: Google sees what's above the waterline. Your library website gets you to the subscription materials below the waterline.Many of these information sources are not free. Just as you have to subscribe to watch films on Netflix, you often you need to pay a subscription to gain access to newspapers, magazines, and academic journals.

What is the difference between a search engine (Google) and a library database?

Search engines, like Google, provide access to content in the open web — the part of the world wide web that anyone connected to the Internet can access for free. Google provides access to great websites including government websites, blogs, and specialty news sites. They are an important part of your research but you need to go further.

When conducting academic research, it is also important to use what many call the "deep web" or "fee web" — that part of the web that is not freely available. As noted, individuals, institutions, and companies pay for access to this content through subscriptions.

These deep web articles and resources are collected en masse in searchable websites called "databases." For example, Netflix and Hulu are databases of popular movies and TV shows.

Here's the good news!

These database subscriptions are already paid for by the libraries of Montgomery County Community College so you can access them freely! The library website provides access to these databases. We will demonstrate how to use these library resources in a live session before you start researching your final speeches.

Not only do databases offer a good quantity of scholarly information, but they offer easier searching for relevant information. This is because information can be filtered in numerous ways, including by subject, format, date of publication, number of pages, and peer-review. Additionally, databases are comprised of information that originates in print such as magazine and journal articles, books and book chapters, special reports, etc. granting these documents greater stability.

Image: Iceberg photomontage by Uwe Kils and Wiska Bodo on Wikimedia Commons. 
Modified by Jerry Yarnetsky of MC3 Libraries. CC-BY-SA-4.0