What type of source is this?
In order to correctly reference material, you first need to identify the type of source: is it a book, a journal, or something else?
This page describes the distinguishing characteristics of these different source types.
Books are printed and bound documents on a particular topic or set of topics. Most books are written by either one person or a small group of people, but there are exceptions to this: edited books, conference proceedings, encyclopædias, and dictionaries.
Edited books and anthologies are books containing writing by several different authors. Typically, each chapter is written by a different author, and the whole compilation is organised by a named editor.
To identify edited books, look at the table of contents. In edited books each chapter or section has a different person's name. In the library catalogue an editor's name will be listed instead of an author.
Conference proceedings are books that collect many different presentations and papers from an actual meeting, conference, or symposium. Like edited books, each chapter is written by a different author, and the whole compilation is organised by a named editor.
Published conference proceedings look similar to edited books, but usually have the name of the meeting in the title (e.g. Proceedings of the IASTED International Conference on Information and Knowledge Sharing).
Encyclopædias and dictionaries are collections of a number of small articles or definitions (often on a single topic). They almost always have “encyclopædia” or “dictionary” somewhere in the title (e.g. Britannica encyclopedia of world religions, The Oxford English Dictionary).
Journals are periodically published collections of articles on a particular subject, similar to a magazine or newspaper. However, the target audience of a journal is usually academic, professional, or technical. Journals represent the cutting edge of research in a field: pioneering studies and analyses are published here first.
|General audience; easy to read||Academic, professional, or technical audience; may use a lot of jargon|
|Lots of advertisements||No (or very minimal) advertising|
|Articles provide broad but not necessarily deep coverage||Articles are in-depth, and contain a thorough reference list|
|Not usually peer-reviewed||Peer-reviewed|
This last difference is especially important. Peer review means that experts in the field (often academics) have checked each article before publication, to ensure that there are no inaccuracies.
When writing an assignment, journal articles are more likely to be comprehensive and useful than general magazine articles. For more on this, see identifying academic sources.
Grey literature refers to publications that you are less likely to find in a library: institutional reports, brochures, press releases, etc. They are usually more difficult to access than books or journal articles, and are less likely to be useful for academic assignments.