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Information Literacy

Information Sources

Searching for information is part of our everyday life, and sometimes you can just ask a friend or use Google to find answers to your questions.

For your university studies, you will have to plan your information search in more detail, and look for the answers in scientific information sources. The library gives you access to many types of information sources, e.g. books, scientific journals, encyclopedias and statistical databases. Some information sources are printed and available on the library book shelves, while some are electronic and accessible all round the clock, and also on remote.

You will learn more on:

  • primary and secondary sources
  • peer review
  • scientific databases and search engines

Primary and Secondary Information Sources

A primary source is an original source, presenting new research results. For example:

  • Doctoral theses and research reports
  • Scientific articles. Experts in the field check and accept the articles before publishing, this process is called peer review
  • In some fields, e.g. the humanities and theology, the primary sources are often books

Secondary information sources summarize and structure the information in primary sources, and help you find them. The most commonly used secondary sources are:

  • Text books including texts written by several different researchers within a certain field.
  • Encyclopedias answering questions about a certain subject area

You can use this encyclopedia for your studies:

Peer Review

Peer review is the guarantee for the high standard of articles in scientific journals and is included in the publication process. Peer review means that experts in the field referee a scientific or academic manuscript and decide whether it is fit for publishing. The experts are expected to review the contents of a publication impartially.

Watch the tutorial to learn more about peer review;

Scientific Databases

Even though there are enormous amounts of information freely available online, there are also a number of information sources on the Internet with limited access. Licensed scientific databases in the "deep/hidden web" contain information not available through Google or other search engines.

Scientific databases contain scholarly journals specialized in different fields of study. If you need a scholarly article for your studies, use the scientific databases provided by the library to find your article. Students and staff at Arcada have free-of-charge access to scholarly databases through Arcada Finna or the Arcada Libguides. Scholarly journals are recommended especially when you want to access the most recent publications and research results.

Types of databases:

  • Full text databases
    • contain e.g. scientific articles, research reports, theses, encyclopedias or electronic books
    • Through full-text databases you can access the publication you want directly
  • Reference databases
    • contain bibliographic data of publications (author, title, publisher, publishing year etc) and keywords that describe the main contents of the publication.
    • Often an abstract of each publication is included.
    • In a reference database you won’t necessarily get full text access to a certain publication, but based on the reference data found you can use other databases to find the publication from elsewhere
  • Fact databases
    • contain factual data in the shape of numbers, images, text, etc.
    • examples of fact databases are statistical databases and different indexes

Most databases contain both full text and references. Watch the tutorials to learn more about scientific databases:

Search for Information Online

Internet is suitable for information retrieval when you are looking for information on current events or phenomena or you quickly need information about an unusual subject. You need to be especially careful when analyzing sources on the open web. Anyone can publish texts online and it is easy to spread propaganda and disinformation, "fake news".

Always be critical when taking part of information found from social media and make sure to verify its accuracy from primary sources.

Search Engines

Have you noticed that same search words can give different search results, depending on what search engine and which device is used?

Search engines look for occurrences of the search words from a database that has been created automatically by a search robot (also called a spider or web crawler). The search robot studies the open web, evaluates the pages it finds, and gathers its information into a database (an index). Your search is directed to this database, and not to the web itself. Different search engines may give different search results depending on one's traceable digital footprints, i.e. who performs the search and what web pages have been visited before. It is easy to become isolated in one's own filter bubble where one only receives information based on one's past search history and online behavior.

Use a wide variety of different information sources to expand your view point outside your own filter bubble. Algorithms based on your search history, your position, online behavior and online contacts choose what information you find online.

Examples on search engines:

Read more about digital footprints on Arcada's Start page;

Tips on how to use Search Engines

  • use specific search words, to limit the result to the actual subject matter.
  • use quotation marks to delimit a phrase (e.g. “donald duck” instead of donald duck)
  • search engines often offer the possibility to limit the search according to the publication date of a web page or its geographical location.
  • many search engines have the option of advanced search, where you can specify e.g. the type of information you are looking for, like image or video files.
  • learn how the search engine you are using works. Most search engines sort and grade their findings according to the similarity between your search phrase and the document, i.e. according to relevance. The documents that are most similar to the search phrase are shown first in the result listing. In such results, the word/phrase occurs many times or at the top of the document. Please remember that some search engines specifically take into account how many pages are linked to the result page

Watch this video to learn more about how a Internet search actually works:

Open Access

More and more research today is published open access. This means that research results are made freely available online, which means that research results are made freely accessible in digital form. This promotes the dissemination of research results both within the scientific community and to the public at large. It is also easier for a larger audience to find open access publications than articles published in subscription-based journals. Research results made freely accessible democratize science, improve scientific communication and smooth out differences between various countries' research institutions.