Topic choice and focus are going to drive the selection of materials used to support a research project. Articles published in any of the publication types described in the definitions section of this guide could be useful in helping a researcher determine angles to follow in the development of a research topic, but, of all the types of publications listed, journals are usually the best choices for use in developing college-level, academic research projects. The reasons are really rather simple: Academics and professional researchers tend to publish the results of their research in journals. Every academic discipline has its own core collection of journals that specialize in publishing current research in the discipline. Journal articles are at least in part based on previously published research, thus providing other researchers with a research trail that will help in tracking down related articles. Journal articles focus on specific aspects of a topic rather than on generalities and direct their readers' attention to controversies or new discoveries within a discipline. Journal articles help keep intellectual discussion alive and lively. Researchers may not always agree with each other and the discipline benefits from the careful examination of specific topics within the discipline.
This is not to discount the value of other types of articles by any means. For example, a researcher examining ideological changes in editorials published in the New York Times and Times of London newspapers over the past 50 years would obviously base a part of the research on the editorials from those two newspapers. The same researcher would also likely examine political science and sociology journals to try to discover if other researchers had previously noted shifts in ideology in national newspapers and to help determine what social or political trends might be driving those changes. A researcher examining the use of sex to advertise American automobiles in consumer magazines over the past two decades would necessarily have to examine advertisements in selected consumer magazines over the past two decades in order to establish a research base for his or her assumptions. For this project, the researcher might look at Newsweek and Time and Car and Driver and Rolling Stone, to name a few magazines, to get representative examples of car ads over the years. But to understand the psychological dynamic at play behind using sex as an advertising ploy, the same researcher would rely heavily on psychology journals that would publish previous research into this and similar topics.
As a researcher begins delving into a topic, he or she should first carefully consider the types of information that will be necessary for covering the topic and then determine which types of publications are most likely to contain that information. As the previous two examples illustrate, even though journal articles offer the best information for academic research projects, some topics will by necessity require the use of other, more popular publications as sources of data that feed into the research. The key thing for an academic researcher to remember is that the in-depth analyses, the detailed examinations, the exhaustive studies of specific aspects within a discipline are most likely to be published as articles in journals, so, regardless of the particular topic, journal articles will play a role in a successful research project.