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GEO 3200: Human Impacts on the Environment - Research Forum

Types of Sources

Information is available to us in many forms:

- magazines
- newspapers
- scholarly journals
- trade publications
- agency reports
- books

... to name a few of the more common sources.

What is the difference between these resources?

Magazine and newspapers are written for the lay person (that is, someone who has a general interest in a topic and wants to learn more). Articles from these sources tend to be relatively short and may include fun pictures and catchy titles that make you want to read more. Magazines tend to be published weekly or monthly. They include content on popular culture (e.g. People or Ebony), news (e.g. Time or Newsweek), sports (e.g. Sports Illustrated or Field & Stream), science (e.g. National Geographic or Discovery), or other subjects. Newspapers tend to be published daily or weekly and report on local, regional, and global events. The local newspaper is the Journal Gazette & Times Courier; we also have access to the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, among other newspapers.

Scholarly journal articles are written by university professors and researchers with reputable credentials. These are people who do research in the field on which they write. Scholarly journal articles tend to be lengthier (~7-10 pages), include more complex language, more descriptive images, charts, or graphs (and fewer pictures), and have titles that describe what the article is about. Scholarly articles are peer-reviewed, which means the articles are edited by other scientists or researchers with a similar level of credentials and expertise on the subject matter. Scholarly articles may be accepted or rejected for publication based on the quality of work being presented. The peer review process lends a higher level of credibility to articles being published. Some examples of scholarly journals in the field of geography include Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Progress in Physical Geography, Journal of Cultural Geography and Physical Geography. Broadly speaking, a scholarly article may be classified either as an original research article or a review article (although there are other types of scholarly articles). Original research articles present the findings of an experiment performed by the author(s) of the article and include sections for methods, results, and discussion. Review articles provide a general overview of a topic and summarize recent, relevant, and landmark articles that have been published on a given subject. Reading a review article is a relatively fast way to gain an understanding of the literature published and research being conducted in a specified field.

Trade publications and agency reports tend to be written for a more selective audience than magazine or newspaper articles. These types of sources are produced by people or groups within a given industry or organization. An example of a trade publication is Farmers Weekly or Chemical & Engineering News. Agency reports may be published by government (e.g. the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) or private institutions (e.g. the Natural Resources Defense Council or the National Wildlife Federation).

Books may be written for a lay or scholarly audience. Popular science books help to explain complex environmental (and other) issues to those without a deep level of knowledge about the topic (a lay audience). Scholarly books are written for those who conduct research in the discipline. Scholarly books sometimes include a number of articles collocated (put together) in one volume for easy access to a given subject. Examples of popular science books are Rebuilding the Foodshed and The Omnivore's Dilemma -- note the catchy, easy-to-read chapter titles. One scholarly book on the topic is Imagining Sustainable Food Systems -- note the more descriptive chapter titles and each chapter is written by a different author.
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