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Source Evaluation: Understanding Sources

This guide explains different types of sources and evaluation methods for research.

When conducting research at the college level, you will often hear the following types of sources referenced:

  • Scholarly source 
  • Peer reviewed source
  • Popular source
  • Primary source
  • Secondary source

Which sources you select will depend on your assignment or information need.

Scholarly & Popular


Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary sources are records of events created as they occurred, or recorded by other eyewitnesses.

Examples include:

  • Letters and email
  • Journals, diaries, and memoirs
  • Audio recordings
  • Photographs
  • Video recordings
Secondary sources take the accounts of multiple eyewitnesses or primary sources and creates a record that considers an event from many points of view.

Secondary sources provide:

  • Objectivity - multiple points of view help mitigate bias and provide a broader perspective
  • Context - historical distance helps explain the significance of an event

Examples include:

  • Books
  • Scholarly articles
  • Documentaries

Selecting Sources

To find background information or an overview of a topic:

  • Books
  • Encyclopedias

To find up-to-date information on current events:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines

To find scholarly information on a topic:

  • Scholarly journals

To find additional sources within bibliographies or footnotes:

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Encyclopedias

To discover new research ideas, emerging trends, or to gain an historical perspective on research:

  • Conference Proceedings
  • Technical Reports

To find current news, products, and trends within a specific trade or industry or practical information from practitioners:

  • Trade journals