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Research Process: Researching and Writing: Choose Your Research Materials

This guide has been created to provide quick access to resources that support the research process.

Information Sources

USC Libraries. (2020, July 29). The information cycle [Video].

The Information Cycle refers to the way that information is produced and distributed and how it changes over time.

Understanding how the information cycle works will help you to know what kinds of information may be available on your topic as you locate and evaluate research sources.

Publication types include popular, scholarly, and trade sources. You may be asked to use a specific number of sources from each publication type.  It is important to understand the difference between each type and how they can be used in your research. 

Popular magazine 

Articles are typically written by journalists to entertain or inform a general audience.


Articles are written by researchers or experts in a particular field. They use specialized vocabulary, have extensive citations, and are often peer-reviewed.

Trade publications 

Written by experts in a certain industry, but they are not considered scholarly, as they share general news, trends, and opinions, rather than advanced research, and are not peer-reviewed.


Popular Magazines

Scholarly (including peer-reviewed)

Trade Publications


Current events; general interest articles

Research results/reports; reviews of research (review articles); book reviews 

Articles about a certain business or industry
Purpose To inform, entertain, or elicit an emotional response To share research or scholarship with the academic community To inform about business or industry news, trends, or products 
Author Staff writers, journalists, freelancers Scholars/researchers Staff writers, business/industry professionals
Audience General public Scholars, researchers, students Business/industry professionals
Review Staff editor Editorial board made up of other scholars and researchers. Some articles are peer-reviewed Staff editor
Citations May not have citations, or may be informal (ex. according to... or links) Bibliographies, references, endnotes, footnotes Few, may or may not have any
Frequency Weekly/monthly Quarterly or semi-annually Weekly/monthly
Ads* Numerous ads for a variety of products Minimal, usually only for scholarly products like books Ads are for products geared toward specific industry
Examples on Publisher Site TimeVogueRolling StoneNew Yorker Journal of Southern HistoryDevelopmental PsychologyNew England Journal of Medicine Pharmacy TimesOil and Gas Investor Magazine
Examples in Library Databases Time; Rolling Stone; New Yorker Journal of Southern History; Developmental Psychology; New England Journal of Medicine Pharmacy Times; Oil and Gas Investor Magazine

University of Texas Libraries. (2020, August 5). Popular, scholarly or trade?

(CC BY-NC 4.0)

ANU Library. (2020, August 4). Primary, secondary and tertiary sources [Video].

A source can be defined as a primary, secondary, or tertiary material type depending on when it was created and its purpose and scope.

Primary Sources

Provides direct or firsthand information about an event, person, object, or work of art. They are original materials which have not been interpreted, condensed, or evaluated.


Journal articles / Theses / Conference proceedings / Diaries / Experiments / Poems / Personal correspondences / Speeches / Paintings / Annual Reports / Patents / Court records

Secondary Sources

Provides analyzes, interprets, or discusses information about a primary information source. Secondary sources are produced at some point after a primary information source appears. Papers written by students typically contain mostly secondary sources.


Textbooks / Biographies / Magazine articles / Book reviews / Histories

Tertiary Sources

This type of materials lists, compiles, or indexes primary and secondary information sources. These sources are most often used to look up facts or to get a general idea about something.


Encyclopedias / Textbooks / Almanacs / Chronologies / Directories / Manuals / Handbooks / Guidebooks / Statistics

Locating NSCC Library Information Sources

Search the Novanet catalogue for resources like books, journal articles, conference proceedings, newspapers, theses, technical reports, and open access materials.

Novanet is a group of academic libraries within Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that work together to enhance access to information for the benefit of all library user communities. Through Novanet, you have access to physical copies of books and photocopies of articles from any college or university library.

You may request materials from other libraries by placing a hold and asking that items be delivered to the library of your choice via Novanet Express.

Novanet Search

A library database is a searchable electronic index of published, reliable resources. Databases provide access to a wealth of useful research materials from academic journals, newspapers, and magazines as well as e-books, relevant Web resources, and various multimedia.

NSCC Libraries subscribes to 98 unique research databases.  Check out the A-Z Database List.

You can use the Libraries' collections off-site by logging in with your w# and password (the same login information you use for your NSCC email).

A journal is a scholarly publication containing articles written by researchers, professors and other experts. Journals focus on a specific discipline or field of study.

Most journals

  • are peer reviewed

  • include original research

  • focus on current developments

  • cite other works and have bibliographies

  • can be in print, online or both

  • are published periodically (monthly, quarterly, etc.)

NSCC Libraries has tens of thousands of online journals. If you already know the title of the journal you are looking for, use the journal search to see if we have it at NSCC.

If you do not have a particular journal in mind or you are looking for multiple articles on a particular topic or subject, try searching our databases.


You can use the Libraries' collections off-site by logging in with your w# and password (the same login information you use for your NSCC email).

Journals A-Z Search

There are now over 200,000 eBooks available at NSCC Libraries.

Find NSCC eBooks by

1. Searching a collection directly (W# and password required)

2. Searching the Novanet Catalogue (limit your Library to NSCC Electronic Resources and Novanet eBook)

Check out the NSCC eBook Subject Guide for more details.

NSCC Libraries subscribes to thousands of online streaming videos you can use in teaching and course assignments.

Visit the Streaming Video Guide for information on the collections, what they cover, and how to search for films.

For more information on accessing our video collections on mobile devices, see our Mobile Library Apps Guide.

You can use our collections off-site by logging in with your w# and password (the same login information you use for your NSCC email).

If your Campus Library does not have the book or article you need, you can try to borrow it from another library. You can do this in 2 ways:

Novanet Express

Interlibrary Loan

How do I request a book from an NSCC or Novanet Library?

  1. Sign into the Novanet catalogue using your Library Account login information 

  2. Locate the book you want

  3. Scroll down to Get It 

  4. Select Place a Hold

  5. Confirm your Pickup Location and then click Send Request

  6. You can Place a Hold on a book that is checked out. 

  7. You will be notified by email when it arrives at your Pickup Location and it will be held for 7 days.

Contact your Campus Library and staff will be able to help you. 

Locating Nova Scotia Information Sources

Everyday, public libraries are places to meet others, share ideas and learn. Whether you want to get involved in a public library program, enjoy free computer access or indulge your love of reading, your library is always there for you.

Nova Scotia has over 80 public libraries across nine library regions.

Check out Nova Scotia Public Libraries and become a member today!

The Nova Scotia Archives is home to millions of historic and archival materials. There are several collections and research guides to explore, including:


African Nova Scotians

Gaelic Nova Scotians


Newspaper Collections

Virtual  Archives

Reference & Research Services are also available to assist researchers navigate the microform holdings.

Established in 1868, Nova Scotia Museums (consisting of 28 museum sites) have over a million objects and growing.  The museums reflect the incredible diversity of Nova Scotia’s human and natural histories.

There are also several resource tool kits available to the public, including

Toolbox for Museum School Programs

The Mi'kmaq

African Nova Scotians

The Gaels

Nova Scotia and the War of 1812

Other Sources of Information

A simple Google search can yield an enormous number of results worthy of consideration for background information. Many will provide basic overviews of a topic or discuss popular opinion on a current issue. Look for these types of websites in your results list:

Organizations (.org)      

Provide basic overviews of issues and causes they represent. Look for official organizations, and be careful of bias found on some sites.

Canadian government (

Offers overviews of topics as well as statistical data.

Magazines and newspapers

Provide some (or all) of their content for free.

Canadian educational websites

Provide well-researched and documented information about an issue and may act as a directory to other quality sources. Also check out US educational (.edu) websites for authoritative information.

Georgian College Library. (2016, August 26). The Web and the library: Which one should I use [Video]?

Search Engines

As well as Google and Bing, there are many other search engines that you may want to try when searching the Web for information: The following are just a few:

DogPile                         Metasearch; combines search results from top search engines

DuckDuckGo                Doesn't track your searches or personal information

Voice of the Shuttle      Search engine for humanities research

WolframAlpha              Great at computing data

Google Scholar is a search engine that can find scholarly material such as peer-reviewed journal articles, books, reports, theses and dissertations. Its interface is similar to Google and it covers a broad range of disciplines. It is useful for finding conference papers and other grey literature that is not always indexed in library databases. Not all results are available in full-text and you may have to check out your library databases to view the entire article.

Compton College. (2021, March 18). Searching Google Scholar [Video].

When background searching a topic, Wikipedia is a great place to start because of its vast and growing network of more than 30 million articles. Understanding the background, history, and related terminology of a topic can help you discover scholarly information from other sources like quality websites, books, or periodicals. 

Besides giving an overview of a topic, Wikipedia is also a place to find leads to published materials and websites. For example, scroll to the end of many articles to find a list of Notes or References of sources used to write the article. Some of the sources may be hyperlinked, while others may just have the citation information. The Further Reading and External Links section also have great leads to more information.

Many instructors do not recommend Wikipedia as a source of research because pages are collaboratively written and can be subject to errors and inconsistencies. In addition, some Wikipedia articles have been subject to vandalism, biased writing, and unsubstantiated claims. Even if you cannot use Wikipedia as a citable source, it still has an important place in the pre-research process.