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Library DIY

I Am Not Sure What Types Of Sources I Need

First consider the purpose of your sources.

What do you hope to accomplish by using sources? Some common reasons you might use sources in your own work include: 

  • to show how your voice enters into an intellectual conversation.
  • to communicate your understanding of an issue and your credibility. 
  • to inspire and enrich your own ideas. 
  • to acknowledge the work of others.
  • to connect readers to related research

Adapted from Yale College Writing Center's "Using Sources" webpage.


When using sources for research assignments...

you'll also want to look at if certain types of sources are recommended or required. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals, primary sources, newspapers, or books from the library, while others might leave things more open-ended.


Consider the types of evidence needed to answer your research question or make your argument. 

  If you need:   Try using:
  Expert evidence   Scholarly articles, books, and statistical data
  Public or individual opinion on an issue   Newspapers, magazines, and websites
  Basic facts about an event   Newspapers, books, encyclopedias like Wikipedia (for older events)
  Eye-witness accounts   Newspapers, primary sources (in books or the web)
  A general overview of a topic   Books or encyclopedias
  Information about a very recent topic   Websites, newspapers, and magazines
  Local information   Newspapers, websites, and books
  Information from professionals working in the field   Professional/trade journals


Common Terms for Source Types

Scholarly article: written by an expert in the field and reviewed by peers in the field, include references and have a academic style.

Learn more about what "peer-reviewed" means or how to determine if an article is peer-reviewed

Note: In many databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed or refereed journals. However, this option is not perfect, as it may also remove some peer-reviewed content that is still peer-reviewed. 


Professional/trade article: published in trade or professional journals and written by experts in the field or by staff writers, mainly intended for professionals in a given field but generally easier to read than most scholarly articles, not 'scholarly' but may still have useful information.
Examples: School Library Journal, Harvard Business Review, Engineering and Mining Journal, and American Biology Teacher. 


Popular journals: written for a general audience.
Examples: The New Yorker, People, and Rolling Stone


Primary source: created during the period being studied, documents what is being studied in some way.
Examples: newspaper articles from the time period, government documents, letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, oral histories, museum artifacts, and photographs.


Secondary source: one step removed from an event, analyzes primary sources.
Examples: a book about World War II based on records from the time, a journal article about Chinese immigrants to Portland. (Most books and articles are secondary sources.)