Library Research Comparison Chart

Here are some categories of research resources that are important to understand.

Source Description Description

Scholarly vs. Popular

  • Written by scholars
  • Often peer-reviewed before accepted for publication; at least has gone through an editorial process
  • Appearance is serious -- text and charts, sometimes illustrations
  • Part of the scholarly conversation -- cites earlier work, is addressed to other scholars, includes author's own research, analysis, &/or argument
  • Lag time of two or more years for a current event or new topic to get scholarly analysis
  • Articles are published in a journal (often has "journal" in the name!") and often are lengthy
  • Books are published by university and other academic presses
  • Specialized language (aka jargon)
  • Footnotes and bibliographies
  • See "Components of a Research Article"
  • Example of a typical scholarly citation: "Social Rights and Gender Justice in the Neoliberal Moment: A Conversation About Welfare and Transnational Politics, " by Nancy Fraser with Kate Bedford. Feminist Theory v. 9, no. 2 (2008): 225-245.
  • Written by anyone
  • Not peer reviewed
  • Appearance designed to be appealing -- glossy, color, heavily illustrated, etc.
  • Written for a general audience
  • Articles are published in magazines, newsletters, blogs, etc. and may be short
  • Books are more often published by trade/mainstream publishers; some are also published by academic presses; some are self-published
  • Writing can be very timely (tweets!)
  • Few if any footnotes; may have a bibliography
  • Everyday language
  • Examples of popular article citations:
    • "Welfare Reauthorization Opens Doors to Real Reform," National NOW Times, Spring 2010, v. 42, no. 1 (2010): 3
    • "As More Apply for Welfare, Concern for Those Denied," by Julie Bosman. New York Times April 29, 2009, p.19.
    • Americans as Welfare Queens? It's a Dangerous Right-Wing Narrative," by Caryl Rivers. Huffington Post, Aug. 15, 2011,, accessed August 16, 2011.
    • "Women Under the Budget Knife," by Katha Pollitt. The Nation v. 292, no. 16 (April 18, 2011): 9.
Primary vs. Secondary
Varies by Discipline. Examples:
  • History: Unique archival holdings of personal papers and the records of organizations; diaries, memoirs, letters, and oral histories; artifacts; and newspapers and magazines from the time period being studied
  • Literature: Particular text(s) being studied; personal papers of the author
  • Social sciences: Interviews, surveys, data collected by governmental bodies, etc.
  • Psychology: Experimental results, case histories, etc.
  • Communication Arts: Films, broadcasts, social networking postings, speeches, newspapers, advertisements
  • Library & Info Science: libraries, librarians, the Internet, reference and other collections, etc.

Scholarly analysis and interpretation of primary material

Reference Works (some call these tertiary): General encyclopedias, like Wikipedia; Reference Universe (an index to hundreds of reference works: UW-Madison link, UW-Milwaukee link); subject encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories, Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, GLBTQ Encyclopedia ; handbooks such as the Handbook of Feminist Research; atlases, such as the Atlas of Women in the World, and other guides, such as Women in Music: A Research and Information Guide

Textbooks (generally more tertiary...)

Local: On or Via Campus vs. Elsewhere

On campus: physical formats: print books, journals, videos, music, microforms, artifacts (ex: campaign buttons, placards), and in-person consultations with librarians.

For books, journals by title [not the individual articles], videos, music, and microforms, use the library catalog at

Via campus: electronic editions of books and journals; digital collections of texts, images, audio and video files, and chat and other e-contacts with librarians.

Information: Campus library information for Graduate Students

May or May Not be Able to Have Sent to You

Obtainable: via interlibrary loan services (ex: books held on other UW System campuses; books in Worldcat; dissertations from other institutions; articles in journals to which the library does not subscribe). Details for UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee users.

Non-obtainable: archival collections,except what's been digitized by the home archive; rare material that can only be viewed at the home institution

Disciplinary vs. Multi or Interdisciplinary

Draws primarily from the scholarly publications of people in that field

Is mostly published in journals associated with that field

Primarily uses the terminology of that field

Primarily uses methodology associated with that discipline

Databases connected to that discipline are generally sufficient for finding scholarly articles.
Multi- or Interdisciplinary

Draws on scholarship from a wide range of scholars with varying backgrounds

May be published in a wide variety of academic journals. For women's studies, this may mean women's studies journals (especially for interdisciplinary women's studies work) or elsewhere.

Uses terminology from various fields; may adopt term(s) from one field and apply elsewhere

May make use of several methodologies, or will extend a methodology from one discipline to other disciplines.

To find articles comprehensively, will need to use numerous databases, including across-the-board databases for academic libraries, such as Academic Search plus many databases specific to disciplines (ex: Historical Abstracts, PsycInfo) or broad divisions of knowledge (ex: Humanities Fulltext), and relevant interdisciplinary databases, such as Women's Studies International and the International Index to Black Periodicals Fulltext.

Print vs. Online

Still the main format for library collections of books, reference works, and older articles; even more so for archival collections.

Use online tools to gain information about content of books

Evaluating print sources is relatively obvious from the context: what the item is, who the author is, how current the information is, etc.


Core academic journals since the early 1990s, offered through various commercial databases; pre-1924 books (out-of-copyright) digitized by Google Books, the Open Library, and elsewhere; occasional and growing E-book collections and individual titles; websites and social networks; broad range of academic citations and links to articles and books through Google Scholar

[To access Google Scholar from UW-Madison and have it match up with Find-it, use the Google Scholar UW-Madison proxy link. To access from UW-Milwaukee, from the Google Scholar home page, select “Settings" and then click on " Library Links." enter “University of Wisconsin Milwaukee” in the search box. Then select it below the search box and also select “Open WorldCat.”]

Evaluating websites requires more critical reading. See the Checklist for Evaluating Websites and the "Evaluating Websites" tutorial using a topic in international women's issues as an example.

Phyllis Holman Weisbard, Sept. 14, 2010, updated October 4, 2011, May 17, 2012.
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