Preparing Research Sources

Preparing for Academic Writing & Speaking

Doing the research

Information Sources

Primary Sources


Many of the ideas and much of the information you use for your writing will come from books. Using your library catalogue, you can enter your subject keywords to find out if there are any books in your research area and whether they are in stock or out on loan. If you find any useful entries, you can note down the class numbers, then go to the shelves, and perhaps find other relevant books as you browse. You will probably find the publication details of other relevant material worth noting in the references of these books.

To search further than the library you are using, and to find the titles of books that have been published, or that are in print, there are some bibliographies you can use. If you note down or print out relevant references, you can check them through the library catalogue to see whether your library has them in stock. If they are not, or are out on loan, you can either put in an interlibrary loan or a recall request, or perhaps see if they are held by another library you are able to use.

Remember to record the bibliographical details of books:

Author Date Title Edition (if not 1st) Place of Publication Publisher

Example 1

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

Some books are collections of articles written by other people. Remember to record the details of the articles/chapters from edited collections.

Author Date Title of article/chapter Author of edited collection Title of edited collection Page numbers of article/chapter Date of edited collection

Example 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Journal articles

Generally, the information in journals is more current than the information in books and post-graduates will find reference to them essential. Most universities keep the latest issues of journals in one place, and then bind several issues together and put them on the shelves. Check the contents pages of journals for relevant-sounding titles and for authors who you know work in your field. Use the reference lists in journal articles as a quick way of finding other relevant material. Most journals can also be accessed via the Internet. Your library computer catalogue will be able to help you find them.

Remember to record the following bibliographical details of articles:

Author Date Title Journal Title Volume Page Numbers

Example 3

Exercise 5

Exercise 6


Newspapers provide the most up to date information. They are particularly useful for business, economics and politics students who need to keep up with current events. If you need to look for back issues of newspapers, newspaper indexes are very useful. They can be found on paper, CD-ROM, and on-line.

Official publications

Government publications are an essential source of data, policy documents and reports for those researching in education, social science, law and business. However, tracing bibliographic details can be difficult because of the complexity of the different types of publication. Use the library search facilities to access this information.


There are a number of sources you can check if you want to know if any research is taking place or has been completed in your subject. You can obtain most dissertations and theses through interlibrary loan, and normally also consult them in the library of the institution that awarded the degree.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources – dictionaries, encyclopaedias, abstracts, indexes and bibliographies – help you find the primary sources. They are available on-line, on CD-ROM, on microfiche or on paper.


Encyclopaedias, like Encyclopaedia Britannica, can give you an initial idea of the important aspects of a subject. They usually also include a bibliography. You should find out where they are kept and write down their class numbers.

Encyclopaedia Example 4

Exercise 8


Dictionaries can help you with specialist or difficult language.

There are both general dictionaries – e.g. The concise Oxford dictionary; The penguin English dictionary

General dictionary – Example 5

Exercise 9: Dictionaries

Exercise 10: Dictionaries

Or specialist dictionaries – e.g. The penguin dictionary of civil engineering; Longman business English dictionary; New penguin dictionary of music.

Civil engineering dictionary – Example 6

Music dictionary – Example 6b

Business English – Example 6c

Engineering dictionary – Example 6d

Exercise 11: Civil engineering dictionary

Exercise 12: Music dictionary

Bibliographies, Indexes, Abstracts

Indexes, abstracts, bibliographies and other on-line databases provide a way in to the large amount of literature which has been published in a particular field. Most libraries have access to a wide range of Internet databases and paper sources which allow you to find brief details of articles which have been published in journals, conference reports etc. in your subject. Some databases may also provide access to full text articles. An Indexing journal is a journal which identifies research reported in periodicals (journals, magazines, newspapers) classified by subject and author. It can be printed or accessed electronically. Indexes contain bibliographic references to publications, while abstracts also contain brief summaries of articles. They give you access to thousands of references to journal articles. It is useful to identify likely articles by reading the summary in an abstracting journal.

 Bibliographies may be published as separate books. They give details of books and articles, usually on particular subjects. There are both subject specific bibliographies and general bibliographies Some bibliographies  are just lists of books but some have more details.

Subject Specific Bibliographies

These are lists of books published for a specific subject. For example

    • Godfrey Davies Bibliography of British history: Stuart period,  2nd ed [edited by] Mary Frear Keeler. Published in Oxford by Clarendon Press, 1970.
    • Bruce Stevenson Reader’s guide to Great Britain: A bibliography. Published in London by National Book League, 1977.
    • The Annual Review of Applied Linguistics is an annual publication. It reviews research in key areas in the broad field of applied linguistics. It is published yearly by Cambridge University Press.

ARAL – Example 7

General Bibliographies

General bibliographies list all the books that are published every year.

British National Bibliography – Example 8

Exercise 13

Exercise 14

Indexing journals include a reference for each article and usually include the name of the author(s), the year of publication, the title of article, the title of the periodical, the volume number and the page numbers of the article. They exist in book form, on CD-ROM or on the Internet.

As with bibliographies, there are both general and subject specific indexes.

General Indexes.

For example:

The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature gives a list of articles that have been recently published in magazines of general interest.

The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature – Example 9

Exercise 15: Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature

Exercise 16: Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature

Exercise 17: Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature

Subject Specific Indexes

Examples are:

    • AGRICOLA is an index of agricultural articles.
    • British Humanities Index provides a complete reference to articles in the humanities. It indexes over 320 internationally respected humanities journals and quality newspapers published in the United Kingdom. It is available in print and on-line.
    • PubMed is a service of the National Library of Medicine and includes over 14 million citations for biomedical articles from the 1950s to the present day.

British Humanities Index – Example 10

Humanities Index – Example 11

General Science Index – Example 12

Exercise 18: British Humanities Index

Exercise 19: British Humanities Index

Exercise 20: Humanities Index

Exercise 21: Humanities Index

Exercise 22: General Science Index

Exercise 23: General Science Index

Abstracting journals will include an abstract or summary of the article in addition to the above information. They are therefore more useful than indexes for deciding whether an article is likely to be useful. Searching the indexing and abstracting journals is carried out by using keywords which may appear in the title or abstract of the article. Many abstracting journals are now available online.

Examples of abstracting journals:

    • Sociological Abstracts abstracts and indexes the international literature in sociology and related disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences. The database provides abstracts of journal articles and citations to book reviews drawn from over 1,700 serials publications, and also provides abstracts of books, book chapters, dissertations, and conference papers.
    • Psychological Abstracts is produced monthly and contains summaries (abstracts, bibliographic information, and indexing) of English-language journal articles, technical reports, book chapters, and books in the field of psychology.
    • Linguistics Abstracts contains abstracts in English of linguistics articles appearing in more than 140 journals from over 20 countries. Each abstract is classified and cross-classified according to area, so that it is easy to locate abstracts on a common topic.
    • Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts covers all aspects of the study of language including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics, child language acquisition, computational and mathematical linguistics, language therapy, dialectology, artificial intelligence, and bilingualism. It contains non-evaluative abstracts of articles from more than 1,200 serials published around the world, complemented with coverage of recent books, occasional papers, monographs, technical reports, and bibliographic citations for book reviews that appear in journals abstracted by the database producer.
    • Current Law Monthly Digest covers all aspects of law affecting England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the European Communities. It provides summaries of cases, statutes and statutory instruments, together with details of recent articles and books.
    • Pollution Abstracts is the leading resource for environmental engineers and scientists, hydrogeologists, geologists, chemists, industrial engineers and hygienists, corporate regulatory affairs managers, waste managers, and government officials concerned with pollution.
    • Language Teaching is the international research resource for language professionals, published in association with The Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) and the British Council. It brings together in one journal the latest findings in important research worldwide in language teaching and learning. Each four-part volume contains some 700 abstracts which summarise significant research selected from key international periodicals in the field.

Abstracting Journal – Language Teaching – Example 13

Exercise 24

Abstracting Journal – Linguistics Abstracts – Example 14

Exercise 25

Internet resources

In the last few years the increase in the amount of information that can be found on-line has been enormous. Many bibliographic sources are available on-line via the Internet. You can also search for the details of books, journal articles and conference proceedings, as well as for data such as statistics, maps, contacts in organizations, e-mail addresses and so on. You will also be able to access on-line the full text of many of the primary sources you need, particularly journal articles. The number of periodical titles that are available electronically is growing rapidly.

Remember to record the following bibliographical details of web-sites:

Author Date Title Date retrieved URL
Subject Databases

If you need even more specialised information, you might want to look at the information available on CD ROM, or on various on-line databases. Many valuable databases can be obtained on disk, CD-ROM and via the Internet. Use your library catalogue to find relevant ones for your subject. Examples are:

  • Academic Search Complete (The Definitive Full-Text Database for Multidisciplinary Research)
  • Bibliography of Linguistic Literature
  • Business Source Complete (covers more than business)
  • CMMC (Communications and Mass Media Complete)
  • EDINA – Arts abstracts
  • ERIC (Education Research Information Center,sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences of the United States Department of Education)
  • Intute – Intute was a free online service providing you with access to the very best Web resources for education and research.
  • JSTOR (Well-established digital library)
  • LEXIS – Cases, statutes and law reports
  • Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (Peer reviewed journals and other resources covering all aspects of the study of language, including second language learning and teaching
  • Linguistics Abstract Online (access to more than 120,000 abstracts from over 800 linguistics journals published since 1985)
  • MLA International Bibliography (Over 1.8 million citations from more than 4,400 journals and series and 1,000 book publishers)NCBI (National centre for biotechnolopgy information)
  • ProQuest
  • Psych Web – Psychology resources
  • PsycINFO – Psychological abstracts
  • PubMed – PubMed is a search engine for accessing citations and abstracts of biomedical research articles.
  • Scopus (Scopus is an abstracts database of 27 million records covering articles from 14,000 peer-reviewed titles from more than 4,000 international publishers)
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