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UG CamGuides: How do I find books and articles from a reading list?

Break down a reading list into different types of resource and know how to recognise them from their reference.

Academic resources

Most of the resources which are recommended to you on a reading list, for a supervision or at the end of a lecture will be academic in nature.

These are trusted by the academic community and are rigorously peer reviewed. This means that other experts in the field have read and commented on the work, suggesting areas for improvement. It is quite common for books and articles to be rejected by these academic reviewers or for them to recommend significant revisions before being reviewed again. In this way, a high standard of publishing is maintained.

When we talk of academic resources, we do not usually include official publications (such as government reports, legal cases, or pamphlets produced by companies). That is not to say that these other resources are not useful for the purposes of research and forming your own arguments, but they must be evaluated more stringently.

However, just because something is 'academic' doesn't mean that you shouldn't continue to question its validity and authority. To learn more, look at the Critical Reading page.

Types of academic resource - click on the box title to find out more

There are two main types of academic book:
  • textbooks - which summarise the research of others in a (sub-)discipline and can be quite broad in scope
  • monographs - which are based on original research and communicate innovative contributions to a more specific field of research
These non-fiction works communicate a series of ideas around a single theme and, usually, comprise chapters. There may be one or many authors, who may share ownership or put their name to certain chapters. Books are often around 50 - 80,000 words in length. They are available in print and/or online. An edited book is a collection of chapters written by several authors and compiled and commissioned by one or more editors who have oversight to ensure that the book retains a narrative.

arrowLearn how to spot a book reference on the next page: Reading a reference
ebooks (or electronic books) come in a variety of formats. Often they are more than just the full-text online, but include additional features such as:
  • full-text searching,
  • highlighting,
  • the ability to add notes, and
  • bookmark sections.

You often 'borrow' ebooks in the same way that you borrow a print work; you have access for a limited period and only a fixed number of students may consult the book at any one time. Occasionally you can download the whole text or a chapter. Sometimes this is yours to keep or it may disappear from your desktop after a set period of time.

You will get to know how different publishers and ebook platforms work throughout the course of your studies. arrowThe majority are accessible wherever you are in the world, but it is worth noting that there are some ebooks which can only be accessed on certain computers in certain libraries. More information is available on the Accessing Resources page.

arrowLearn how to spot a book reference on the next page: Reading a reference
These are shorter works that communicate new research findings. You may find them called research articles/papers, review articles, or original papers but they all perform a similar function. They are published in journals. A journal is published regularly (at least once a year, but very often multiple times). Each time it is published it is referred to as an issue and issues are usually grouped into volumes (often corresponding to a year). There are usually many papers written by different authors in any one issue.

A researcher submits an article on a particular topic to a journal which often publishes on a sub-discipline of a subject area, though there are some overarching journal titles such as Nature, a multidisciplinary science journal.

Some journals are considered peer-reviewed because they only publish articles from specialists in their area and ask other specialists to comment on, question and review articles before they are published; this is a really good way of making sure that what is written is accurate and takes into account everything that has been already been published on the subject area.

If the reviewers and the journal editors feel the article is high quality and relevant to the journal, they will publish it in an issue (the reviewers very often ask for some changes to be made before the article is published). Each issue will have a limited number of articles in it, up to about 20. Each article is distinct from the others, unless it appears in a 'special issue' with articles grouped around a theme.

Typically around 8-12,000 words, articles are more specific than books and so are useful in answering a particular question, but less relevant if you want an overview or in-depth exploration of a subject. A paper in a journal usually takes less time to publish than the research that appears in books, so it is a good way of spreading current and new information.

Increasingly you'll find that these are available only online, although the university still subscribes to some print versions.

arrowLearn how to spot a book reference on the next page: Reading a reference


With thanks to:

Zadie (Classics)

Non academic resources - click on the box title to find out more

You may come across a range of other material, most likely online, that appears to be useful for your studies and research. This could be material claiming to be academic in nature or it might be a primary source such as news, company reports, legislation, or archives. If the credentials are not clear, you need to be especially careful about using it in your academic work. Before using it, take a little time to critically evaluate the source of the information and the content. Think about:

  • Can you tell who wrote it?
  • If the author is not identified who is the sponsor, publisher, or organisation behind the information?
  • Are the author’s credentials or organisational affiliations listed?
  • Is the source reputable?
  • What is the purpose of the information: to inform, sell or entertain?
  • Does the point of view appear objective or can you determine bias?
  • Is this clearly stated or apparent through a close reading?
  • Does the text/site provide information or is it a critical evaluation of other information?
  • When was the information published/posted? Does this matter in your field?
  • When was it last revised? Have there been new studies or developments in theory since then?
  • If reviewing a web source, are the links current or broken?
  • Where does the information presented come from? Are the sources listed?
  • Can you verify the information in other sources or from your own knowledge?
  • What is the depth of coverage?
  • Is the information central to your topic or does the source only touch on it?
  • Is it unique? Is better quality information available from another source?
  • Who is the intended audience?
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Evaluative criteria checklist

Use your course description to find a topic that you are going to be studying this year.

Go online and search for a resource. It could be a wikipedia page, a BBC news article, a freely available ebook or journal article, a company website, or a departmental webpage.

Using the checklist below, see if you can find answers to the questions. Would you use this in your academic work? If not, why not? Which are the unanswered questions and do they impact on your view of the usefulness of the resource?

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CC0 by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

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