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Searching for Online and Print Information Sources: Home

This LibGuide is designed to provide tips and suggestions for searching for online and print information sources, especially for research assignments or research for publication. Most of these strategies might be called "recipe guides" because they offe

Page Overview

This page offers brief discussions of information source types and tools: suggestions regarding what tool is best for particular searches and how/when/why one might use such tools.

Library Tutorials/Helpful Videos

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John Upchurch
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Houston Cole Library
Jacksonville State University
700 Pelham Rd N
Jacksonville, AL 36265

Regarding Sources

Types of Sources

Research requires the use of various types of sources.

  • Primary sources: the thing itself 
    • essays, letters, diaries, documents, speeches, images and other media
    • a painting, a musical composition, a sculpture, a movie; a play, poem, or short story
  • Secondary sources: information about the primary source
    • books, book chapters, essays, journal articles
    • companions, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks
  • Tertiary sources: things which serve as guides to point researchers toward secondary sources
    • bibliographies, indexes (some books have a bibliography of additional sources in the back) 
    • electronic databases (minus the full text); a full text database would be a combination of a secondary and tertiary source

Accessing Sources

Accessing sources requires going through various "information portals," each designed to principally support a certain type of content.  Houston Cole Library provides four principal information portals:

  • JaxCat online catalog: "whole" (complete) items such as books, journals, newspapers, DVDs, and musical scores. 
  • Electronic databases: "partial" items such as journal articles, newspaper stories, interviews, reviews (and a few books; JaxCat still should be the "go-to" portal for books).  Databases complement JaxCat by indexing things for which JaxCat has no record.
  • Gemfinder Discovery Search: mostly journal articles, but also (some) books and (some) random internet pages.  Discovery combines elements of the other three information portals and is especially useful for searches where one is researching a new or obscure topic about which little is likely to be written, or does not know where the desired information may be concentrated.  Discovery is the only portal which permits simul-searching across databases provided by multiple vendors.
  • Internet (Bing, Dogpile, DuckDuckGo, Google, etc.): primarily webpages, especially for businesses (.com), government divisions at all levels (.gov), or organizations (.org), as well as pages for primary source-type documents such as lesson plans and public-domain books.  While book content (Google Books) and journal articles (Google Scholar) are accessible, these are not the strengths of the internet and more successful searches for this type of content can usually be performed through JaxCat and the databases.  

Regarding Print Reference Sources

Print reference sources, especially dictionaries and encyclopedias, are used early in the research process, before information source seeking begins, and can be used to

  • obtain background information and position a topic within its context prior to beginning research
  • narrow a topic to a subject suitable for a research assignment
  • identify unfamiliar people, places, and things pertaining to the broad topic
    • for some authors and subjects are "cutting edge" sources
      • contain entries on authors and subjects that have not received much attention in the journal and monograph literature
  • provide contextual information that can sometimes redirect the focus of a research project 

In addition to assisting in research, these works also can                                                            

  • help students prepare for exams (especially comprehensive examinations for degrees)                                           
  • provide students enough basic information to participate in class discussions
  • help teachers prepare lesson plans for things which will be covered in class but which are not a major part of the syllabus   




Regarding Print Reference Tools

Print reference tools 

  • are finding aids used following the background gathering and subject focusing that is done via reference sources 
    • presents content as lists (similar to a database Results List), generally of secondary sources germane to the topic  (Information in reference sources usually is presented as paragraphs.)
    • in this context, primarily consist of indexes and bibliographies (for instruction on how to use these it's better to consult with a librarian)
  • are primarily are used to
    • find more in-depth sources (essays, journal articles, monographs) pertaining to the research subject      
    • locate older source materials that database backfiles are not deep enough to access
      • of greater usefulness in the humanities disciplines than in the sciences or social sciences