Research Help

Selecting the Right Source

Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, Books, and Online Resources

It is important to think critically about possible sources of information for a paper or project. Who has written the item? Why? What would be credible to a professor or colleague? There are many other questions to consider when doing research.

Many students are particularly confused about when it is appropriate to use newspaper articles, magazine articles, journal articles, or books for their papers. And what about World Wide Web resources?

For more information about selecting and using these various sources, visit these pages:

Check with a librarian for additional help, if necessary.

For help with getting a focus on your topic, visit the How to Narrow or Broaden Your Topic Web page.

Newspapers

  • Example: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, La Opinion
    Audience: General public
    Coverage: Any subject of interest; newsworthy events; local coverage
    Written by: Professional journalists; some articles contributed by specialists
    Timeliness: up-to-date coverage (one-half-day to a week)
    Length: fifty to two thousand words
    Content: Dependent upon the type of article: analysis, statistics, graphics, photographs, editorial opinion; no bibliography or list of sources
    Slant: Tends to be mainstream/neutral

Use newspapers for:

  • Local statistical information, such as the number of children growing up in single-parent homes in Los Angeles or the divorce rate in New York
  • Local coverage, such as information on how the Los Angeles City Council has addressed the issue of welfare for single women with children
  • A recent story about single parents with AIDS

To locate newspaper stories, search E-Resources by Type; includes online access to the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal; or Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe.

Magazines

  • Example: Time, Life, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Popular Science
    Audience: General public to knowledgeable layperson
    Coverage: Popular topics; current affairs
    Written by: Professional journalists; not necessarily specialists in the field; poets and writers of fiction, essayists
    Timeliness: Very current coverage (one week to several months)
    Length: 250 to five thousand words
    Content: General discussion; editorial opinion; graphics; photographs; advertisements; usually no bibliography or list of sources
    Slant: May reflect the editorial bias/slant of the magazine

Try a magazine for:

  • A cover story on the state of marriage in the US
  • An opinion essay on latchkey children
  • Profiles and rankings of Fortune 500 companies with the best childcare programs and benefits

To locate articles, search Academic Search Complete or the print version of Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature or ask a reference librarian for suggestions.

Journals

  • Example: American Political Science Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, American Sociological Review, Journal of Psychology
    Audience: Scholars, specialists, and students
    Coverage: Research results, frequently theoretical in nature
    Written by: Specialists in the field; usually scholars with PhDs
    Timeliness: Current coverage (six months - three years )
    Length: 2,500 to ten thousand words
    Content: Detailed examination; statistical analysis; graphics; bibliography usually included
    Slant: Supposed to present objective/neutral viewpoint; may be difficult to comprehend because of technical language or jargon; often sponsored by professional associations

Try a journal for:

  • Case studies of children growing up in single-parent homes
  • Comparison study of economic stability in single-father versus single-mother homes
  • Psychological analysis of children who experience bitter custody battles

To locate articles, search Academic Search Complete, PsycINFO, or other computerized indexes and print indexes such as Women Studies Abstracts and Alternative Press Index, or ask a reference librarian for suggestions. 

Books

  • Example: College Calculus with Analytic Geometry, Wealth Without Risk, DOS for Dummies, Closing of the American Mind
    Audience: Ranges from the general public to specialists
    Coverage: In-depth coverage of a topic; compilation of scholarly articles on a topic
    Written by: Specialists/scholars
    Timeliness: Currency varies (two years plus)
    Length: 150 pages plus
    Content: varies from general discussion to detailed analysis; usually includes extensive bibliography
    Alant: Perspective entirely dependent on author; may be sponsored or published by professional associations

World Wide Web Resources

  • Example:
    Welcome to the Whitehouse
    Scholarly Societies Project
    Ladies Against Women
    Audience: General public; children to senior citizens; knowledgeable layperson; scholars; anyone
    Coverage: Popular topics; personal information; current affairs; government information; research; scholarly information; fun and games; and more
    Written by: Anyone, including professional journalists, children, high school students, members of the general public, scholars and researchers, poets and writers of fiction, essayists, college students, advocates and activists, and others
    Timeliness: Varies wildly: may be very current coverage, very out-of-date, or undated
    Length: Can vary greatly
    Content: Anything, including general discussion, editorial opinion, graphics, photographs, advertisements, statistical analysis, detailed analysis, fact, fiction, fraud, and more
    Slant: Varies; may reflect the editorial bias/slant of the creator, may be objective or neutral, may be geared for academic or professional audiences, may be unsupported personal opinion

Try a Web resource for:

  • reviewing legislation on family issues
  • finding research or other information about single-parent families
  • locating listservs and newsgroups for single parents