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 your assignment guidelines to see whether 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. Use Ask a Librarian if you would like help.

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, and encyclopedias (for older and well-known events)

Eyewitness accounts

Newspapers, primary source books, and web-based collections of primary sources

A general overview of a topic

Reference books, including 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

Peer-Reviewed article: written by an expert in the field and reviewed by peers in the field, include references and have an academic style. These are sometimes referred to as Scholarly articles.

Learn how to determine if an article is peer-reviewed using Ulrichsweb.

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, and Engineering and Mining Journal.

Popular journals (magazines): written for a general audience and often have advertisements and color photographs
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, government documents, letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, oral histories, museum artifacts, and photographs. See our page on Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources.

Secondary source: one step removed from an event, analyzes primary sources
Examples: a book about World War II based on records from the time or a journal article about Haitian immigrants to South Florida; most books and articles are secondary sources. See Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources.

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