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Information Essentials: Academic sources of information

What types of information should I use for my assignment?

Depending on what type of research you are doing you will need to identify what resources are key pieces of evidence for your work. 

Academic sources are considered to be the top tier of evidence for research. This is information that has been produced by experts in the field. Commonly commercially published through an academic publishing body, these sources undergo a scholarly review process by other experts or "peers" in the subject known as peer-review

"Academic sources" or "scholarly sources" commonly means:

  • Academic journals and journal articles
  • Academically published books

When should I use academic sources?

Use academic sources when you need evidence of recent research that has been done and reviewed in your subject. They are great sources of credible information for research. 

Academic books are good for theories and structured overviews of a subject or topic. Use these to give some background information to your work. 

Academic journal articles and research papers are good for exploring current research and the specific developments of a narrow topic. 


Finding academic sources

Access to academic sources are usually controlled by the publisher, either via a single academic journal or an academic publisher who publish a range of journals and books. As a lot of academic resources will require payment to access you can use services that purchase access such as libraries or workplace subscriptions using your student membership. 

To access these resources you can use: 

  • ECU Library Search: to search the library catalogue for materials you can access. The library search will also show you what is available at any academic library worldwide. 
  • Scholarly Databases: for subject specific results. Scholarly databases collect journals and academic works based around a specific selection criteria. 
  • Google Scholar: or similar online scholarly search engines to see a wider range of material published online. These however will not guarantee you access to the resource.

See our Search Engines and Library Databases guide to learn more about how search engines and databases work and to find out which search engine or database is right for you.

For some information they will only be published directly to an online webpage. 

Online sources can include:

  • Online news media and current affairs
  • Organisation information and descriptions.
  • Media releases and press conferences
  • Blog posts and company statements 
  • Social media and public forums

Why use websites and online sources

Information about a company may only be produced on their about webpage, recent incidents may not have had enough time to receive a formal report, and public opinion may not be officially published but rather be presented online through blog posts or forum discussions. Use websites to find this information where needed.

Be careful when using online sources

When using online sources these are not (most of the time) reviewed by other experts. As these can be produced and published by a single person or organisation they will require additional checking for quality. See our Evaluating Information section to find out how to judge the reliability of online sources. 

A lot of factual information on websites will also be secondary or tertiary sources. Ideally when doing research you want to use primary or academically published research when providing evidence to your statements. 

Types of websites

When using websites you can at times identify the purpose of the site by its domain. Some domains are restricted to a certain type of service. 

.com - are for commercial websites (anyone can register for this domain)

.edu - are for educational institutions (e.g.

.gov - are for government organisations (e.g.

For country based websites these may use their respective country code as the next level domain in the web address. If you want to find something from Australia look for .au in the domain name for Australian based websites.

When looking for government or education information you can do a site search for these domains to restrict your results to just educational (.edu) or Australian (.au) websites. 

Be aware that not all government or educational institutions may have registered for a .gov or .edu domain so remember to search broadly as well. 

See the Google Scholar section for how to restrict these using Google.

Grey literature refers to research, reports and other works not controlled by commercial or academic publishing. 
Grey literature includes:
  • Reports (by government or commercial entities) 
  • Theses
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Technical Standards
  • Government Statistics
  • Datasets
  • Technical documentation and manuals

As these works are published by the company or organisation that produced it the review process for these works are usually done by the organisation itself at varying degrees (from none to extensive review and editing). 

Why use grey literature?

If you are working on something that needs to look at a particular company or group and their business grey literature might be the best source to find this information. 

Information on their day to day functions such as meteorological measurements, wildlife tracking, financial records, or incident tracking are not academically published but rather published in reports that can be found through the websites of whoever is tracking and reporting on it. 

Finding grey literature

To find grey literature you can have a look at the associated organisation or industry websites or repositories. 
You can also search Google for reports or web-documents by filtering for PDF documents on organisation websites. To do this add the following search restrictions to your search string:
For file type restrictions: Filetype:__ (e.g. Filetype:PDF )
For site restrictions: site: site:___ (e.g. or
For more information on grey literature see our Grey Literature guide or visit: 

Wikipedia is a useful tool for surface level information. However when it comes to the search for reliable and credible information it falls short. Here are the key things that you need to know when considering Wikipedia and the information that is found on it. 

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is an online free encyclopedia. The key aim of Wikipedia is to create a collaborative collection of knowledge in which anyone in the world can contribute to and expand (Wikipedia, 2020d). The information presented in the articles of Wikipedia are recommended to be written from a neutral point-of-view with no original research (Wikipedia, 2020b). Edits in Wikipedia are generally requested to have a verifiable sources cited for each one of the points presented (Wikipedia, 2020b, 2020c). 

Why is it not a reliable source?

A reliable source is one where you can verify where and who the information is coming from. We use the CRAAP test to test for reliable sources. Here is Wikipedia if we apply the CRAAP test:

  • Currency: When was the article published?
    • ✅ A lot of the articles are frequently updated and kept current.
  • Relevancy: Does it relate to your topic?
    • ✅ Each page can be narrowly focused on its main topic it allows for the relevancy of the article to be easily matched to your assignment topic. 
  • Authority: Is the author or publisher qualified to talk about the topic? 
    • ❌ Who was the author of the article and who were the editors of that particular entry are unknown. Editors can remain anonymous when editing entries into Wikipedia (Wikipedia, 2020b). As a reader you cannot verify who the authors are. 
    • ❌The only restrictions of control that the publisher (Wikipedia) claims to have is a restriction on pages to the administrators only for the sake of preventing vandalism (Wikipedia, 2020e)
  • Accuracy: Does the information have supporting evidence? Where have they gotten their evidence from?
    • ❌There is a lack of scholarly evidence provided for some Wikipedia entries. It is recommended to find information which the supporting evidence are also from a reliable sources.  
  • Purpose: Why is the information published?
    • ❌In academic assignments and works it is recommended to cite primary sources of research, observations, or studies. Wikipedia articles are all written as sources of no original research (Wikipedia, 2020a). This means that all of the statements of ideas presented in these articles have been taken from somewhere else, making the entire article a secondary source.

Okay but can I use Wikipedia?

The use of encyclopedias to provide context, definitions, and related topics is not one that is academically discouraged. The purpose of encyclopedias and other reference works such as dictionaries, handbooks, or manuals are useful tools to create understanding of a word, phrase, subject, or concept.

This is where Wikipedia comes in. 

Use Wikipedia for:

  • Related concepts - If you are doing an assignment to explore a topic (literature reviews, essays, reports) you need to be able to look at related topics. Use Wikipedia as an encyclopedia to explore the related topics around your assignment. 
  • Key words - When forming your search strategy to find academic works you need to know the language and key words that are commonly used. Use the language and related terms from encyclopedias to expand on your search string. 
  • Understanding - You can also use Wikipedia for getting a basic overview of your topic. Keep in mind that the article may not be written by an expert. Consider using your textbooks to verify any claims that are found on Wikipedia. 

Never use Wikipedia as a reference (unless you're talking about the website Wikipedia)! 


Wikipedia. (2020a, July 29). Wikipedia:No original research.

Wikipedia. (2020b, August 3). Help:Editing

Wikipedia. (2020c, September 20). Wikipedia:Core content policies.

Wikipedia. (2020d, September 21). Wikipedia:About.

Wikipedia. (2020e, September 22). Wikipedia:Protection policy.