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Ranger School Quick Start Research Guide: Types of Sources

Types of Sources

Academic & Scholarly Journals: These contain peer-reviewed articles that take the form of a research project or a literature review that summarizes and explores research from multiple sources. 

Books: Can cover a wide range of topics and often cover those topics in more depth than other sources.

Newspapers: Are great places to find information on current events, both locally and nationally. Some newspaper articles cover the facts and some express opinions.

Popular Magazines: Cover stories of interest on diverse topics and current events. These may cover scientific research but they are geared toward the general public rather than the scientific community. Examples include National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and Scientific American.

Government Reports, Documents, and Data: These are produced by the government and generally geared toward the general public. They can contain a wide variety of data and information, many of which are based on research. Examples include annual census data, NRCS snow surveys, and reports about research done in national forests and parks.

Dissertations / Theses: These contain a very detailed literature review as well as original research and are generally written by individuals at the end of a degree program. Typically dissertations are done for a PhD program and theses can be written for either master's or baccalaureate programs. 

Conference Proceedings: These often cover the latest ideas and findings in a particular field and can be the precursor to future scholarly articles.

Websites: The internet is full of information on so many topics from many sources. Consider the quality and accuracy of websites before relying on them for information.

What does peer-reviewed mean?

Peer-Reviewed, Scholarly, Academic, & Refereed all refer to articles submitted to journal for publishing and before that article is published, experts in the field (aka peers) examine the article's originality, quality of research, research method, sources, etc. to make sure the article is appropriate for the journal in question.

How do I know it's peer-reviewed?

The easiest way is to select the "peer-reviewed" or "scholarly" limiters when doing your initial search. However, this option is not always available and sometimes it excludes some peer reviewed journals. If there is no search limiter and/or you needed to expand your search by deselecting that limiter, here are some questions you should ask to determine if it's peer-reviewed.

  • What are the authors' affiliations? Do they have PhDs? Do they currently work in an academic/research institution? 
  • Do you see a series of dates (submitted on... accepted on...) anywhere? How current is the issue? Is that important?
  • Does the paper conform to traditional scientific journal format, (abstract, intro/literature review, methods, results, discussion, conclusion)?
  • Is there a rather long list of references?
  • Are there acknowledgments to reviewers, grants, or contributors?
  • Does the article look "boring"? Compare it to something like Time or National Geographic.

If you can answer yes to most of these questions you probably have a peer-reviewed journal. If you are having difficulty you can contact a librarian and we would love to help you!