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Choosing & Identifying the Best Source Types for Your Research

Learn about all the different source types and when they are appropriate and helpful to you in the research process: encyclopedias, Wikipedia, books, scholarly articles, popular articles and magazines, trade magazines, news, and websites!
Understanding the type (genre) of information you are encountering allows you to predict its form, function and context, making what you find more understandable and helping you determine the relevancy and validity of the information.

Why identify what kind of source you have?

  • Get the RIGHT KIND of information you need FASTER
  • EVALUATE the appropriateness and validity of information.


We live in a society of ubiquitous information coming at us from every level: top down, bottom up, and sideways from our friends and colleagues. Thinking about the type of information you are looking for helps you narrow the playing field. 

Information doesn't just "happen" or "exist" on its own.  It is produced by people and then disseminated, either through traditional (e.g., mainstream and scholarly publishers) or non-traditional (e.g., self-publishers, Internet) channels. Each has its merits, based on the kind of information you need.

Knowing what type of source you need or are currently using will tell you how the information has come to exist, so you can answer the following:

  • Who is the author? Why should I believe him or her? What expertise or credibility does he or she have?
  • Who has published this information? For what purpose? Has it been validated, reviewed, or edited?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • How current is this information?
  • How objective is this information? What biases, assumptions, or worldviews underlie it?