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Books and Articles: Understanding the Differences: Home

Understanding some of the differences between books and articles can help you find the information that best suits your research needs.

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Books and Articles: Understanding the Differences

When searching the library's discovery service, you'll get results that include many different kinds of resources -- books (both print and electronic), audio-visual resources, journals (both print and electronic), online articles, and maybe even archival records. For most projects, books and online articles will be the most commonly used resources. Does it matter which one you use?

It's important to understand that neither one is necessarily better than the other. Each communicates information differently, and one may be more appropriate than the other depending on your needs. You'll almost always want to make sure that you look at both kinds of resources when doing research.

If you aren't familiar with how to refine searches in our discovery service so that you're seeing only books or only online articles, please read our guide, Finding What You Need in Hiebert Library.

Here are some very general characteristics of books and articles that may help you understand the differences:


  • Generally better at giving comprehensive coverage, broad overviews, and general introductions to a topic.
  • More likely (though not guaranteed) to provide information more suitable to non-experts.
  • Tend to "explain themselves" better to the reader.
  • Contain information that may be less up-to-date than recently-published articles. This may be more of an issue in some rapidly-changing fields than in others.
  • You'll have to come to the library to access printed books, though the library also has many e-books that can be accessed from anywhere.


  • Generally have the most up-to-date research.
  • Often are available from the library in full-text digital format, and so can be accessed from anywhere.
  • Tend to be narrowly focused on a specialized topic rather than providing comprehensive coverage of a broader subject.
  • Often assume a high level of knowledge from their readers. They don't always "explain themselves" well to non-experts, and so may be difficult to understand. This is especially true in scholarly journals, but less so in popular magazines.

Since books tend to provide better introductory overviews to topics, we generally recommend that you start with them. Once you've looked at those resources, you'll probably be more ready to take on the more specialized resources available in scholarly journals. Again, for help with refining your searches, see Finding What You Need in Hiebert Library.