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Types of Sources

Selecting Sources

For an overview of your topic use tertiary sources:

handbooks, some textbooks, subject-specific reference sources, general encyclopedias, bibliographies, and open websites (These types of sources should be used only for background information and are not usually included in the bibliography of a college-level research paper.)

For more information about your topic use secondary sources:

Non-fiction books and other monographs, some textbooks, some scholarly journal articles, literary criticisms, statistical summaries, trade publications, newspapers, popular magazines, and documentaries

For details about specific points in your outline use primary sources:

Some scholarly journal articles, in-depth scholarly book chapters, blogs, photographs, and raw statistics



The human world is a veritable web of information.  Information can come from many different types of sources. Which kind should you use?

It depends on what questions you are trying to answer.

The following tutorial will examine a variety of information types and materials regularly used for academic research.  We will consider how they are produced, advantages and disadvantages of particular resource types, and some suggestions for determining what sources are best-bets for your particular research needs.  

Rule of thumb: Use a variety of sources to add validity and depth to your work.  A variety of sources also opens your point-of-view to opinions that differ from yours.  That's a good thing!

What you will learn:

  • Given a need for a particular type of information (i.e. overview, scientific research, news), to identify and use an appropriate type of source, such as:
    • encyclopedia articles, books and e-books, magazine articles, journal articles, newspapers, primary sources and reference materials
  • ‚ÄčDifferentiate between popular magazines and scholarly journals
  • Articulate the advantages of the different types of media in which information is found
  • Differentiate among major finding aids typically used in libraries:  library catalog, research databases, Internet search engines.

(Please view this PREZI tutorial using the full-screen button on the bottom right. Use the arrows at the bottom of the tutorial to move through each slide at your own pace. No audio is available for this tutorial.)

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