Academic information comes in a wide variety of formats. Some of these, like textbooks, you will be familiar with. Others, such as journals, edited books or online collections may be new to you. This section looks briefly at the different sources you may encounter during your studies.
This is the source of information you are, perhaps, most familiar with. At university your tutors will probably use two types of book. On the one hand your course may have a course textbook associated with it. This will usually be an introductory text to the subject and will cover a great deal of ground but usually quite superficially. The primary use for the course textbook is to enable you to get an overview of the subject, so you can see where the new bits of information you read and hear about fit in to the overall scheme of things. Don't be tempted to rely too heavily on the course textbook when preparing for essays and revision. Remember, it is an introductory text only; you will have to flesh out the details with more reading.
Books and Monographs
Accompanying the textbooks your tutor may also refer you to a number of more detailed books. Sometimes these are called monographs, because they deal with one subject in a great amount of detail. The thing to remember here is that monographs are usually highly technical publications aimed at professionals and that they assume a degree of familiarity with the subject material. In many cases you may find them too 'deep' unless you have done a wide amount of background reading. Don't be put off by this. Very often your tutor won't expect you to read the whole of the book but will refer you to specific pages or chapters. Always look carefully at your reading list for any additional instructions your tutor has given you. For instance, he/she may have added the phrase 'vide pp. 225-246' or 'esp. pp. 225-246' after the reference. This means 'look specifically at pages 225 to 246'.
The vast majority of academic research now appears in academic journals. Initially, journals were the mouthpieces of the learned societies. One of the oldest such societies, the Society of Antiquaries of London, was founded in 1707 and gives a useful insight into how journals came about. The Society held weekly meetings at which members presented various findings to their colleagues (it still does). Since not all members were able to attend each meeting, the society arranged to publish the most useful contributions in a volume of papers each year. This journal was called Archaeologia, or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, and the first volume was published in 1787. Thereafter, at least one volume has been published each year up to the present day.
The story of Archaeologia, as it is now called, demonstrates three key features of modern academic journals. Firstly, they contain short essays or papers which, more often than not, pertain to a focused piece of research; that is, generally, they do not cover broad issues like books, but concentrate on detailed observations. Secondly, each journal is published periodically, either once a year (like the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society), quarterly (like the Journal of Archaeological Science), or weekly (like Nature). This is why journals can also be known as periodicals. And thirdly, it explains why many of them have such peculiar titles! Indeed some are so cumbersome that researchers use acronyms. For instance, you may hear the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society referred to as 'PPS' or 'Proc. Prehist. Soc.'. When you are searching for journals or when you refer to them in your essays it is important to get these abbreviations right.
During the twentieth century there was great increase in the number of academic journals due to the sheer amount of research that was being conducted. This was particularly the case in medical and biological sciences where there are literally hundreds of thousands of journals published each year. In archaeology there are over two thousand journals dedicated to the discipline. You can see a list of the major titles by going to the ARCHway website.