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Master's Education Research Guide

Learning Objectives

  • Students will recognize the variety of sources where information can be found in order to choose the most appropriate source for their inforamtion needs.
  • Students will identify the characteristics of popular, general interest, technical trade, and scholar periodicals in order to recognize the best information use for each type of periodical.
  • Students will develop strategies in order to identify a peer reviewed journal.

Types of Information and Where to Find Them

Below is a listing of some common information needs with tips on where and how to locate them.



Search Tip



Background information on a topic.

Overview of a topic.

History of a topic.
Subject encyclopedia

In the Library Catalog, limit your search to the reference collection. Perform a search using the subject you are interested in and encyclopedia. For example in a search for the history of the pacemaker, type medicine and encyclopedia.

The electronic database Credo Reference provides access to numerous reference works. These are available online and in full text.

There are more encyclopedias than World Book and Encarta. Subject encyclopedias offer detailed content on a vast array of topics.  
In-depth look at a topic Book

The Library Catalog searches the physical collection of the Mundt Library including books and e-books.

To search the holdings of thousands of libraries use WorldCat. After finding a book, you may request it using the library's Interlibrary Loan service.

Google Books searches the full text of millions of books. Assorted chapters and some complete books will be available online.

Often you will not read an entire book while doing research. To find the portions of the book focused on your topic use the Table of Contents and Index.  
Information on a controversial topic.

Pros/Cons of an issue.
  There are several databases that provide good starting points for information on persuasive issues.

Opposing Viewpoints offers the pros and cons of an issue. Along with viewpoints this database also provides full text access to reference works, magazines, academic journals, newspapers, primary sources, statistics, multimedia, and web sources.
When preparing a persuasive or argumentative paper or speech you will often use statistics and testimonial to highlight your points.  
Current research.

Empirical study.
Journal article There are journals written in all disciplines. These journals are contained within the periodical databases which the library subscribes to. In order to discover which databases contain sources on your topic, use the Research Databases by Subject link. Research articles from journals are one of the most highly utilized resource when conducting research for course assignments.


Statistics Statistical Websites and Databases

Many government sites also provide education statistics.

National Center for Education Statistics. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education.

South Dakota Department of Education Statistics.

Statistics can be found in numerous resources. They are often provided just as numbers without discussion. Sometimes to takes a bit of time to understand what the data tables are saying.




Types of Information Video

This video looks at how needs for information can vary and offers examples of when to use assorted resources. Time 3:32



Scholarly Continuum of Magazines/Journals


This table describes the differences between scholarly journals, technical/trade journals, substantial news/general interest magazines, and popular magazines based on the set of criteria in the left column.

These criteria may be used to determine where in the continuum from scholarly to popular a particular periodical (magazine or journal) falls.






 Audience & Purpose



Audience: Specific professional audience of other scholars in the discipline or profession.

Purpose:  Reports or makes available original research or experimentation to the rest of the scholarly world.



Audience: Specific professional audience of people in a particular discipline or profession. 

Purpose:  Helps someone do their job better by reporting on new techniques (but does not report original research). Includes job listings and other news of interest to people in that profession. 


Audience:  Educated audience with interest in the topics (not aimed at a professional group)

Purpose: Provides substantial information to an interested audience.


Audience: General audience.

Purpose: Primarily entertains or persuades.  Hidden agenda may include selling products or services.


Generally have grave, serious formats

Are attractive in appearance

Attractive in appearance

Generally slick & glossy with an attractive format


Contain graphs and charts to illustrate the articles but usually quite plain in appearance with minimal use of color.

Include photographs, illustrations and graphics to enhance the publication

Include photographs, illustrations and graphics to enhance the publication

Contain photographs, illustrations and drawings to enhance their image



Cite sources with footnotes and/or bibliography

Articles may not be footnoted or may have few footnotes

Occasionally cite sources, but this is exception to rule

Rarely cite sources; Original sources can be obscure


Written by scholars or researchers in the specialty


Written by people working in a particular profession


Written either by the magazine’s staff, a scholar, or free-lance writers.

Written by the publication’s staff or free-lance writers for a broad based audience



Use terminology, jargon and the language of the discipline covered.  The reader is assumed to have a similar scholarly background.

Use terminology and jargon of the field but are usually less formal in tone.

Use language appropriate for an educated readership.  They do not necessarily emphasize a specialty but do assume a certain level of intelligence.

Use simple language in order to meet a minimum education level.  Articles are kept short, with little depth.


Generally published by a professional organization or society

Published by professional association

Published by commercial enterprises for profit

Published for profit



No advertising or very minimal, selective advertising

Advertisements are aimed at people in that profession -- including products and services of interest to them.

Carry general advertising

Carry extensive general advertising



New England Journal of Medicine

Journal of the Am. Chemical Society

Harvard Business Review

American Biology  Teacher

Chemical  & Engineering News

Scientific American

Psychology Today



Reader's Digest

ENGL201 Scholarly table.   Karl E. Mundt Library/ Dakota State University.                    Based on document developed by Purdue University. Undergraduate Library

Scholarly Continuum Video

This video explores how periodicals can be classified into various categories. Time 4:50

Peer Reviewed Sources

The quality of journal articles is controlled through the process of "peer review."

In scholarly peer-review, articles are evaluated by other scholars/specialists who are experts in the specialty/topic of the article.

  • The three or four reviewers of each article may recommend that the article be published as is, published after certain revisions, or not published.
  • The "highest" level of peer review is a "double-blind" review in which the authors don't know who has evaluated their papers and the reviewers don't know whose papers they are reviewing.

Journals that use a peer-review process to select which articles they publish are called "peer-reviewed journals" or "refereed journals."

  • In some scholarly journals, every article (except the editorial or introductory essay by an editor) has gone through peer review.
  • Some scholarly journals may have news items, editorials, and other features that are not peer-reviewed and should not be confused with the peer-reviewed content.

Using peer-reviewed scholarly journals helps you base your work and decisions on credible evidence.

How to figure out if a journal is peer reviewed. If you are certain you have selected a scholarly article, check the website of the journal in which the article is published to find out if the journal is peer-reviewed. This is described in step 2, below.

To understand what differentiates a scholarly article from articles that are popular, substantial news/general interest, or technical/trade, read the  "Scholarly Continuum of Magazines and Journals" elsewhere on this page.

To learn more about finding peer-reviewed articles, read on...

Scholarly peer review is a process to assure the quality of articles in a particular discipline or field of study. Work, activities, decision-making, and problem-solving need to be based on high quality evidence.  Journals that select articles for publication by using peer review are called "peer reviewed journals" or "refereed journals."  Below are steps for determining if an article is peer-reviewed.

Step 1. Determine if the article is scholarly. Only scholarly articles are likely to be peer-reviewed, so you can automatically eliminate non-scholarly articles from consideration.

  • Articles written for a general audience, even if the topic is serious, do not go through scholarly peer review. You can assume that articles published in magazines for the general public are not peer-reviewed. Such magazines range from popular ones that entertain such as People Weekly to substantial news magazines such as Time or Atlantic Monthly.

  • Articles written for a specific professional audience (such as teachers, business managers, animators, computer scientists) may be scholarly, or they may be technical/trade articles. Technical/trade articles do not go through scholarly peer review.

  • The key characteristic of a scholarly article is that it reports original research or original theory. The word "original" means that the author or authors have done the research study or have developed the theory or model that they are reporting. This content is critical for distinguishing scholarly articles from technical/trade articles. While technical/trade articles are very useful for keeping their audience up-to-date about tools, techniques, and news that help them do their jobs better, these articles do not report original research.

  • Some secondary characteristics MUST be found in any scholarly article but may, also, be found in some technical/trade articles. A scholarly article will always have a bibliography, because the author(s) must demonstrate  knowledge of pre-existing relevant research by others and must show how their research contributes to existing knowledge.  However, a technical/trade article may also include a bibliography, so this characteristic (having a bibliography) cannot be used on its own to distinguish technical/trade from scholarly articles.

  • Original research studies tend to have a similar format (although this can vary by discipline) that includes introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion. When you see this format, you can assume the article is scholarly. Also, when an author refers to "this study" or "this research," that's a clue that the author is reporting original research. Of course, a bogus article could be written in this format to appear to be scholarly when it's not, so it does matter that the source of the article is a reputable journal or journal website or that you found it using a reputable research database.

  • Research databases that include articles that range from popular and substantial news articles to scholarly articles will often include a search option to limit your search to only scholarly articles. Use this feature to eliminate popular articles and save time, but be aware that the search results may include the non-scholarly articles (editorials, opinion pieces) that are sometimes included in a scholarly journals or may in some other way mis-identify an article as scholarly. You'll need to evaluate whether the article you select actually is scholarly.

Step 2. Although most articles that publish original research and that are found using professional research databases are likely to be peer-reviewed, the only way to be certain is to find out whether the specific journal in which the article is published uses a peer review process to select its scholarly articles.

  • You've done everything you could to select scholarly articles that are likely to have been peer-reviewed:
    • You used a discipline-specific research database
    • You evaluated the article itself to make sure it's scholarly

  • To determine if it is peer-reviewed, search the internet for the journal in which the article appears and go to the journal's website. 
    • On the journal's website, look for the "About" link. The about-the-journal area will usually state the fact that the journal is peer-reviewed.
    • If nothing is stated about peer review in the "about" area of the website OR to find out the nature of the peer review, on the website, look for "submission guidelines," "author guidelines," "information for authors" or some other similar option. The author area will typically describe how articles are selected for publication.  For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states, "Peer reviewer identities are kept confidential, but author identities are made known to reviewers." Author identities remain anonymous to reviewers for the International Journal of Research and Method in Education: "Authors should prepare and upload two versions of their manuscript. One should be a complete text, while in the second all document information identifying the author should be removed from files to allow them to be sent anonymously to referees."

Peer Review Video

This video looks at the peer reviewed process. Time 3:58