Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

**Research and Writing**

Welcome! This guide will help you develop your research and writing skills by providing foundational knowledge of the iterative research and writing process as well as manageable steps for breaking down and navigating college research projects.

Still Struggling?

Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful.  Contact someone at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.

Understanding Format

Information comes in a variety of formats that you should consider before beginning your research. Your needs will shape what sources you seek in your research. Some common differences between formats include intended audience, length, organization, and supporting evidence. Well-rounded research projects typically rely upon multiple formats of information.    

This page explores the different formats of information, defining each one and indicating where you would go to find resources in that format.

Books

image of books on bookshelves

Books can be found in print, electronic, and audio formats. They are typically organized in the following manner: title page, copyright page, table of contents, chapters, references, and index. In an academic library, you will find both scholarly books that are written for academic audiences by subject experts as well as popular non-fiction books written for the general public by professionals, journalists, and writers. Usually, you want to rely more heavily on scholarly books for your college research.

Books can be found at libraries and retailers as well as through online databases. The library catalog allows you to search for print books and ebooks (electronic books) at McKillop Library and other libraries. Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive also provide access to thousands of ebooks that are in the public domain. These books can be downloaded to any device for free. Google Books also provides access to some ebooks, although many are available only as previews or in snippets. Finally, McKillop Library subscribes to a number of services that provide access to ebooks, including Gale Virtual Reference Library, Ebook Academic Collection, JSTOR's ebook collection, and Proquest Ebook Central.  All of the ebooks available at McKillop Library can be found and accessed through the library catalog.

Periodicals

image of periodicals

Periodicals are resources that are published as "issues" at regular or periodic intervals. These intervals vary by publication and can be set on daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, biannual, or annual schedules. They may have either print or electronic versions; or, sometimes, both. There are four common types of periodicals you may encounter in your research: academic journals, trade journals, magazines, and newspapers. 

Academic Journals

Academic journals, also known as scholarly journals, provide scholarly information that is typically written by subject experts. Rather than provide broad topic overviews, these articles tend to examine specific elements of a topic or explore subtopics. The articles aim to keep students seeking expert knowledge, academics, and subject experts informed of recent research and trends in a specific field of study. They often include longer articles steeped in technical language because they are written for an audience that is expected to have prior subject knowledge. Articles in academic journals tend to follow a specific format, providing an abstract (an overview of the article), literature review, original research, necessary graphs and tables, and a reference section that includes what sources were used. Most academic journals require articles to go through a peer-review process before publication. This process is intended to ensure the accuracy, credibility, and quality of included research. Because of this process, academic journals are also sometimes referred to as peer-reviewed journals or refereed journals. These journals may also include book reviews and information about subject-related events and opportunities (although they generally include very little advertisement).  

Most academic journals are available through paid subscriptions only, although publishers may sell specific issues or articles as well.  McKillop Library provides access to many academic journals through its databases and a select number are also available through its print collection. Academic Search Complete and JSTOR are interdisciplinary library databases that include thousands of academic journals. In addition to the library databases, some academic articles can also be found and accessed for free through Google Scholar and the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Of the four types of periodicals, academic journals tend to be published the least frequently, generally on quarterly, biannual, or annual schedules.

Trade Journals

Trade journals contain articles that provide industry-specific news written by journalists or professionals. They are frequently published by local, state, and national organizations for particular industries. The articles in these journals showcase current issues in an industry or trade to current and future practitioners, professionals in the field, and interested members of the general public. Trade journals may also include some technical language and industry-specific advertisements. Some trade journals may undergo a peer-review process, but this is not the norm.  Trade journals are also called practitioner or professional journals.  

Most trade journals are available through paid subscriptions only. McKillop Library provides access to many trade journals through its databases, particularly subject-specific databases, as well as in its print periodical collections. In addition to the library databases, some trade articles can also be found and accessed by going to the website of the organization that publishes the journal.

Trade journals tend to be published more frequently than academic journals and often have 6-12 issues per year.

Magazines

Magazines, also known as popular journals, contain articles that are usually written by staff or journalists.  The articles tend to be short and are meant to entertain or inform the general public. These periodicals are written in a chatty, easy-to-read style that is free of jargon and technical language, and they often contain heavy advertisement. Magazines are not peer-reviewed.  

Most magazines can be obtained through paid subscriptions or purchased at newsstands. McKillop Library provides access to many magazines through its online databases and its print periodical collection. Some magazines can be found and accessed by going to the website of the publication.

Magazines are typically published more frequently than both academic and trade journals, usually coming out weekly or monthly.

Newspapers

Newspapers contain articles ("columns") that are usually written by journalists and staff. The articles aim to inform or entertain a wide audience.  They tend to cover current topics, providing both factual and opinion-based coverage in the form of editorials, letters to the editor, and op-eds ("opposite the editorial"). Newspaper columns are often shorter than articles from other periodicals, and they answer basic questions about a given topic (the who, what, when, where, and why questions). They are not peer-reviewed.  

Most newspapers can be obtained through paid subscriptions or purchased at newsstands. McKillop Library provides access to many newspapers through its newspaper databases as well as to a select few through its print periodical collection. Some databases, like New York Times Historical, also provide access to archived newspaper issues. Most current newspapers also have websites that provide limited access their content.

Newspapers are usually published daily or weekly, and some newspapers publish multiple editions in the course of a day. Newspapers with an online presence often post regular updates around-the-clock.

Audiovisual Sources

​Videos and audio recordings can also provide valuable information for research projects. Like periodicals, whether these sources are providing scholarly, trade, or popular information will vary by source. An educational video that interviews experts in the field is a scholarly source, while a drama created for entertainment is a popular source. Videos and audio recordings can be either primary or secondary sources. Interviews, music recordings, and live footage are primary sources while documentaries and radio programs are secondary sources.  

​McKillop Library has a large DVD collection located on the first floor of the library. The library also provides access to video content online through its video streaming services like Films on Demand and Academic Video Online (AVON).  Audio recordings can be found through the library's audio streaming services.

Websites

screenshot of Google

Websites are collections of web resources that can include multimedia content as well as individual web pages. Virtually any information that you find in a Google search comes from a website. While there is a lot of useful information available online, the fact that anyone can post online means that you need to critically evaluate the information that you find. Websites are identified by domain names that include .com (commercial sites), .edu (education sites), .gov (government sites), .org (organization sites), and .mil (military sites). Websites from .edu and .gov domains are typically viewed as being more reliable, although it is still important to evaluate the specific author, purpose, and evidence provided for any website you use for research. Organization websites (.org) are also sometimes seen as being more reliable, depending on the credibility of the organization. 

It's important to differentiate between websites as a format of information versus other formats that you may be accessing online through websites. For example, if you found an article on the New York Times website, that source is a newspaper article not a website. You may find a scholarly article online using Google Scholar, but that source is still a scholarly article (from an academic journal), not a website.

Government Publications

Government documents are generated by local, state, and national levels of the government. They can include a variety of current and historical information including international treaties, presidential papers, congressional records, court documents, statutes, reports, and statistics. Government documents are authoritative, credible sources of information to use in research.  

McKillop Library provides access to a wide range of government documents through its government databases. Additionally, many government documents are available online through specific government agency websites.

Grey Literature

The term "grey literature" refers to documents written by experts or researchers in either print or electronic format but not published by a commercial publisher (i.e. a publisher that identifies publishing as its primary activity). Instead, these documents are collected and preserved by libraries and institutional repositories. The term "grey" refers to the undefined and uncategorized nature of these documents. They do not fall neatly into the categories of scholarly, trade, or popular sources.  Additionally, some pieces of grey literature may be primary sources of information like data sets and clinical trials; while others, like dissertations and conference presentations, are secondary sources.

Grey literature aims to inform or influence opinions on a given topic. Grey literature usually emerges from different levels of government, academia, advocacy groups, research labs, businesses, and industries. It can include conference materials (presentations, proceedings, etc.), theses and dissertations, department newsletters, reports (including white papers and working papers), clinical trials, blog postings from experts, and data sets.