Answered By: Erin Mooney
Last Updated: Jan 04, 2022     Views: 225

When you have a research assignment the first thing to do is to figure out what types of sources are required or allowed by your instructor. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals, primary sources, newspapers, or books from the library while others might be more flexible in the types of sources used. Here are some source terms you should be familiar with:

Scholarly article: Written by an expert in the field and reviewed by peers who are experts in the same area. In many databases, you can limit your search results to scholarly or peer-reviewed journals. Learn more about Peer-reviewed Articles.

Professional/trade article: Trade or professional journals have articles written by experts in the field OR by staff writers. The articles are only reviewed by editors for style, so they go through a less rigorous review process. The articles often do not contain reference lists. Examples include Harvard Business Review, Engineering and Mining Journal, and American Biology Teacher.

Popular journals: Written for a general audience rather than for professionals or scholars. Examples include The New Yorker, People, and Rolling Stone.

Primary source: An item that was created during the period being studied and documents in some way what is being studied. Examples include newspaper accounts, government documents, letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, oral histories, museum artifacts, photographs.

Secondary source: A source that is one step removed from an event and analyzes primary sources. Examples include a book about World War II that is based on records from the time, or a journal article about Korean immigrants to Georgia. Most books and articles are secondary sources.

Next, think about what types of evidence you need to answer your research question or make your case. This chart makes suggestions for specific types of resources for your research:

If you need... Try using...
Expert evidence Scholarly articles, books, statistical data
Public or individual opinion on an issue Newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs
Basic facts about an event Newspapers and books
Eye-witness accounts

Newspapers, primary source books, and
web-based collections of primary sources

A general overview of a topic Books or encyclopedias
Information about a very recent topic Websites, newspapers, magazines
Local information Newspapers, websites, books
Information from professionals
working in the field
Professional or trade journals


Understanding the Information Cycle can help you recognize what types of sources are available on your topic too:

Thanks go to the Portland State University Library for sharing their Library DIY idea with us!


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