Types of resources

The first step when choosing what kinds of sources to search for is to check your assignment guidelines. Some professors specify what type of source they want to see you use, such as scholarly journal articles or primary sources. Other professors leave it up to you to choose what the most appropriate source type would be. You can also use multiple types of sources in one paper – no one source type is inherently “better” than another, it is all dependent on the context of your paper and the specific point you’re making.

Common types of sources you might see include:

  • Scholarly Article: An article written by an expert in the field and reviewed by other experts in the same field. In most databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer reviewed or refereed journals. Learn how to find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.
  • Professional/Trade Article: An article written by a professional or a staff writer in the field and reviewed by an editor. The articles often do not contain bibliographies.
  • Popular Article: An article written for a general audience to inform or entertain. Some examples include Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and People Magazine.
  • Primary Source: An item that was created during the period of time that is being studied. An example is a newspaper article from September 11, 2001 reporting on the 9/11 attacks. Browse our list of databases that contain primary source material or see our guide to searching for primary sources for more information.
  • Secondary Source: A source that is one step removed from the event being studied and analyzes or draws upon primary sources. For example, United 93 is a movie based on the 9/11 attacks but created five years after the events.

What to search for

Depending on the point you’re seeking to prove or explain in your assignment, this table makes suggestions for what kinds of sources would be best.

Finding the right source:

If you need Search
Basic facts about an event Encyclopedias, books, or newspapers
Expert evidence Scholarly articles, books, statistical data
Eyewitness accounts Newspapers, primary source books, and special collections sources
Information about a current topic Websites, newspapers, and magazines
Information from professionals working in the field Professional trade journals
Local information Newspapers, websites, and books
Public or individual opinion Newspapers, magazines, or credible websites

Review our guide to getting started on your research assignment for more help.