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Module B Understanding Information Sources

Understanding Information Sources
Read the following information carefully and then complete the short quiz.

You can then move on to Module C: Searching

The following topics are presented in this module:

  1. Books
  2. Journals
  3. Peer review
  4. Electronic resources

By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • identify what an academic book is and how it is structured
  • understand the difference between print and electronic books
  • understand what academic journals and journal articles are
  • understand what peer review means in the academic context
  • understand electronic resources such as ebooks, ejournals and databases

At university you will use a wide range of books, from textbooks (which serve as an introduction to a new topic) to more in-depth works which allow you to explore your chosen subject further. Some books may appear on reading lists for your modules. You may also be encouraged to look for additional books as part of your independent study and research.  

Books may be available in two formats: traditional printed books or electronic books (also known as ebooks). Irrespective of format, all books have a number of standard features. Understanding these features will help you find content relevant to your studies. Often you will not be expected to read a single book cover to cover but rather navigate several books and extract relevant information.  

  • On the front cover or the title page of a book, you will find its title, information about author(s) or editor(s) and possibly edition and publisher details. These details are important to know when you want to refer to the book in your academic work.   
  • Within the first few pages of the book you will discover the contents page. This outlines the structure of the book, providing a chapter breakdown and page numbers to help you find relevant sections.  
  • A bibliography usually appears at the back of the book, or at the end of a book chapter. It is a list of all sources used by the author(s) in the writing of the book or the chapter. It provides evidence of primary and secondary sources used.   
  • Publisher information is usually found in the initial pages of the book. It is here that you will identify who the publisher is, and the place and date of publication. This information may appear with a copyright symbol.  
  • At the back of the book there may be an index. This assists you in finding the specific pages which contain information relating to your chosen topic.   
  • Some books contain a list of abbreviations and definitions of specific terms. This may come under the heading of glossary or abbreviations and may appear at the front or the back of the book.  

Academic books

Unlike general books, most of the books you will use for your academic work will have been reviewed by the publisher to ensure accuracy.

Printed books versus ebooks

You may be expected to consult a range of books for your course. These books may be available in printed format or as ebooks (sometimes both). The following table shows some of the main differences between printed books (first column) and ebooks (second column). The third column shows features which both printed and ebooks have in common: 

Printed books

  • can be touched
  • can be flicked through
  • can be found on a shelf in the library 
  • can be borrowed from the library
  • can be located using a shelfmark (also known as classmark) 


  • can be read online
  • can be scrolled through on a computer / mobile device
  • can be found online
  • can be accessed online 
  • can be accessed via a link from the library catalogue or the library web page

All books

  • have a title
  • have one (or more) author(s) or editor(s)
  • may exist in different editions (versions)
  • have a publisher
  • have a date of publication
Locating Books in the Library

When you enrol at university, you will be able to access printed books and ebooks for your studies via the university library. To find these books, search the library’s catalogue which can usually be found on the library’s website. The catalogue provides a listing of the books which the library has available.   

If a book you find on the library catalogue is a printed book, the catalogue will provide its shelfmark (also known as classmark). It is a set of letters and numbers on the spine of a book which indicates on which shelf in the library the book is located.

Ebooks do not have shelfmarks. If the book you find is an ebook, it can usually be accessed via a link from the library catalogue. It can be read online with some licensing conditions