What types of sources do I need?


Not sure what types of sources you need?

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

  • Scholarly/ peer-reviewed/ refereed/ academic articles: These articles are written by scholars or experts in the field and reviewed by peers who are experts in the same area. In many databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed or refereed journals.
  • Professional/trade article: Written by an expert, a professional in the field, or by staff writers and reviewed by an editor for style and content. The articles often do not contain reference lists. Examples include School Library Journal, Harvard Business Review, Engineering and Mining Journal, and American Biology Teacher. These are often found in our library databases.
  • Popular journals: Written for a general audience rather than for professionals or scholars. Examples include The New Yorker, People, and Rolling Stone. These are often found in our library databases.
  • Primary source: An item that was created during the period studied that documents in some way what is being studied. Examples include newspaper accounts, government documents, letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, oral histories, museum artifacts, and photographs. Primary sources can be found in many different places, including in books (when a photograph or speech is reprinted, for example), on the web from libraries, museums, or other organizations that have digitized primary source content, and in some of our library databases. The Primary Sources research guide provides links to online sites, databases, and much more.
  • 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 Chinese immigrants. Most books and articles are secondary sources. You can find books by using the search box on the library's home page. You can find articles by using this same search box or by searching the library's databases.

What types of evidence will 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: Find:
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 and books
Eye-witness accounts Newspapers, primary source books, and web-based collections of primary sources
General overview of a topic Books or encyclopedias
Information about a current topic Websites, newspapers, and magazines
Local information Newspapers, websites, and books
Information from professionals working in the field Professional, trade journals


  • Last Updated Sep 03, 2023
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