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InfoSkills for Social and Behavioral Sciences

InfoSkills @ TiU

Informally published sources

What is an informally published source?

Informally published sources are produced by organizations whose primary activity is NOT publishing. In other words, these sources are not tied to or controlled by established publishers, who seek profit on the research or information produced. 

Informally published sources typically come from:

  • undefinedUniversities;
  • Government departments or agencies;
  • Nongovernmental organizations (NGO's);
  • Research institutes;
  • Think tanks (research institutes providing advice and ideas on specific political or economic problems);
  • Foundations;
  • Business & industry;
  • Professional/scholarly associations (organizations that promote a profession/academic discipline);
  • ...

Examples

Informally published information includes, but is not limited to, the following sorts of materials:

  • Working papers: 'working' versions of scholarly journal articles, often released on dedicated websites so that other academics can comment on them before they are published;
  • Reports: produced by governments, (non profit) organizations or corporations on specific topics or issues; 
  • Research reports: documents that describe the history of a research study from start to finish;
  • Conference papers: scholarly papers presented at a conference (those that are not formally published in book form or in a journal). Recent conference papers are valuable because they contain current research; 
  • Annual reports: comprehensive reports on a company's or organization's activities throughout the preceding year;
  • Fact sheets: short documents that provide facts and key points about a topic in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand way;
  • Podcasts (the ones NOT available through a formally published source, e.g. a newspaper);
  • Items/articles on news websites;
  • Blogs;
  • Posts on social networking platforms (Facebook, Twitter, online forums);
  • Policy reports: extensive analyses of some of a nation’s most pressing domestic and foreign policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers and the general public;
  • Discussion papers: documents which show and discuss the issues that surround a specific topic;
  • Dissertations: extended scholarly works, usually based upon original research, written to obtain a PhD degree (the highest level of academic degree) at a university. Note that sometimes dissertations are formally published as a book;  
  • ...

Format

Informally published sources may be available in both print and digital format (e.g. government reports), but these documents are in many cases published only online.

Quality of informally published sources

Compared to formally published sources, quality control of informally published sources is less rigorous or sometimes even non-existent. As a result, some of these sources are unreliable.

‚ÄčThat said, many of them are very reliable and useful. For instance, very recent information or research may not yet have been formally published in a journal article or book - but might be available in a working paper or conference paper. Reports from professional organizations may examine particular topics in more depth, or on a more practical level, than mainstream publications. Government reports, scientific or not, are reliable. Many prominent academics, journalists, and public figures have blogs that are considered trustworthy. 

What about Wikipedia?

Wikipedia can serve as a convenient starting point for finding information on a new topic. Watch this short video that explains the advantages and disadvantages of Wikipedia, and how you can best make use of it [sound not required].

Source: Newcastle University Library.