Descriptions of literature forms

Picture of a pile of books


The references you retrieved in the last activity are all periodical or journal articles. There are many other forms of publication which are used to disseminate research and which you will find in academic libraries.

These forms include some that are very familiar, such as monographs, edited collections, encyclopaedias as well as others which may be less so: official publications, reports, reviews, theses, web sites and photographic or other images.




Scholarly journals
These are academic journals which publish both commentary and original research on academic topics. These publications sometimes use a peer-review process. Peer review means that journal publishers arrange for articles submitted by authors to be reviewed and critiqued by experts ("peers") in the same discipline; sometimes called "refereed". This process is a mechanism for quality assuring the standards, academic integrity and reliability of published material. With double-blind peer review, authors are not aware of the names of the reviewers and similarly, reviewers are not informed as to the names of the author/s. There may often be a delay of one to two years as the peer review process is completed. In some cases, professional journals may be appropriate for your area of research - linking to specific areas of practice for vocational areas, discussing theoretical approaches as well as reporting on research.

A monograph is a scholarly treatise, usually on a specific topic. The work should be read and interpreted as a whole rather than as separate chapters. The writing and publication process means that this material will already be dated as soon as it is available. These publications will most usually be available in print form and increasingly in electronic form now, although this varies significantly between disciplines. Use the online University Library catalogue to discover if there are copies of specific titles in stock. You can get access to the Library catalogues of other institutions via the online University Library catalogue and the Library can provide guidance on the availability of support for inter-library loan requests.

These are a significant element of the scholarly literature. A thesis is a piece of original work presenting a specific view as a result of scholarly research, usually as a requirement for an academic degree award. The work will review concepts, theories and previous research and present new, theoretical approaches and novel research undertaken. There may be related conference papers, and journal articles published by the researcher during the course of their work. Theses may also eventually be published in the form of a monograph, although more often, they are unpublished and accessible via Library catalogues or inter-library loan with access being restricted. Theses are increasingly available electronically in full text.

Reports are part of the process of disseminating programmes of research, or presenting the work of specific groups. They may relate to policy and practice; and to the work of particular organisations.

Government reports are a specific kind of report, produced by government departments, official enquiries, or government committees established to investigate and report on particular questions. The University of Southampton Library has a nationally significant collection of United Kingdom official publications, including government reports.

Papers presented at conferences, seminars, colloquia
These are papers which record presentations made at conferences etc. This form may not be available anywhere else in print. Usually brief and timely, highly current and may report on completed work and/or the most recent stages of on-going research, which are not peer reviewed. Conferences may be gatherings of academics, communities of practice, professional organisations or simply groups of people interested in the same broad theme from many perspectives. Conferences may be electronic, virtual events or real time face-to-face gatherings at specific venues. Papers may be distributed to conference delegates, published electronically on the conference website and/or published in print form possibly in several volumes and held in the University Library along with other published works.

There are many different types of newspapers: international, national, regional, local, daily or weekly. They are increasingly available electronically.

Grey literature
This material may be indexed electronically and it may be presented in a semi-published state. A good way to access this material is to go to the website of the organisation or body which is involved in or leading the work concerned. This category of material includes market research reports, pamphlets, and leaflets. Such material may be available in the University Library, but you may also have to develop your own ways of collecting it: direct approaches to organisations or by means of personal contact.

Personal contacts
These will consist of expert practitioners and researchers in the field who may be known to you or whose details you have come across in your own explorations online. You may make contacts at conferences and seminars in which you participate. This is part of the process of contributing to the academic community of practice.

Primary sources
Primary sources consist of manuscripts, reports, interviews, surveys, records of observations and other data collected - original work which is presented for the first time.

Secondary sources
These materials summarise, review and report on original sources. They are the result of the academic filtering process which will itself be selective.

Each of the forms of literature is associated with different kinds of bibliographic control. This affects the way in which you search for and make reference to the material. The tool to use to find materials that are on the shelves of a Library is the Library Catalogue:

  • the printed card catalogue, housed in cabinets in the Hartley Library;
  • online University Library catalogue, which covers material held in all of the site Libraries of the University.
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