Conference papers are original contributions that were presented at a scientific meeting. In most cases these are not or minimally peer-reviewed. The reason that scientists present a paper at a conference is to inform their peers of their work, especially their new results and ideas and to get feedback.
A conference is somewhat like an open market or bazaar - don't believe everything the "seller" tells you!
However, in some fields (e.g. computer and information science, public administration) major conferences are highly-regarded, the papers are strictly peer-reviewed, and the published proceedings are good sources.
But since conference papers can have different levels of reliability you have to be careful.
The original submissions, with no quality control; typically distributed at the meeting itself and "published" by the conference organizers are maybe not so reliable.
Sometimes they are also difficult to obtain after the conference is over. Avoid using this as a source if at all possible.
Edited Proceedings by a publisher reviewed by a scientific editor are reliable. And sometimes the papers are presented in a special issue of a scientific journal.
These should be considered as journal papers. They have an editor and may be cited as a whole; in this sense they are like an edited book.
Proceedings are a collection of papers presented at a conference. Scientists are informing their peers of their work.
Examples of conference papers
ISPRS 2008 : Proceedings of the XXI congress : Silk road for information from imagery : the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 3-11 July, Beijing, China. Vol. XXXVII, Comm. I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII.
Sharing good practices : e-learning in surveying, geo - information sciences and land administration, proceedings FIG International Workshop 11-13 June 2008 ITC, Enschede The Netherlands
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