Types of information sources for Science, Medicine & Engineering

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When searching for information on a topic, the type of information you are after will determine what type of sources it is most likely to be found in, and where and how you should search for these sources.

To help gain familiarity with an unfamiliar topic, look for introductory or background information in books and in reference tools (like encyclopedias and handbooks).  Search for books using the library catalogue.  Look for print and online reference tools using the links below.  ‘Secondary sources’ in Science, Engineering and Medicine, such as encyclopedias and handbooks, don’t contain original research, but can save you a lot of time by pointing to important research.

Professional and trade publications or magazines can provide detailed information on industry trends, current practices and issues.  Search for these using professional associations’ websites or the tools linked below.

More in-depth information on a topic, including research studies, can be found in journal articles, articles collected in books, conference proceedings, theses, dissertations and technical reports.  These are considered primary sources in Science, Medicine and Engineering when they contain original research.  Find these sources using the databases linked below.

Don’t forget about a few other, often-overlooked sources of information, including patents, standards, & grey literature.  These can contain highly detailed, relevant information, but can be tricky to find. Use the links below, and contact the library if you have any questions about finding these sources.

If you have questions about picking the right type of information sources for Science, Medicine and Engineering, contact the Library.


The following links may be useful to users at Western University:

Library catalogue

Subject-specific research guides include:

  • Print and online reference tools (e.g., encyclopaedias and handbooks)
  • Subject-specific sources
  • Professional and trade publications or magazines:  various databases may supply this information
  • Journal articles and databases

Additional links:

Contact us for more assistance