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Research 101 (older version): What Kinds of Sources Should I Use?

What kinds of sources should I use?

Common Terms for Source Types

Scholarly article: written by an expert in the field and reviewed by peers in the field, include references and have a academic style.  Learn more about what "peer-reviewed" means and how to tell if an article is peer-reviewed.

  • 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, Engineering and Mining Journal, and American Biology Teacher. 

Magazines: written for a general audience. Some magazines are well-researched, complex, and provide thoughtful in-depth reportage and reflection, others are superficial and driven mostly by commercial or heavily biased interests, and others fall in-between. Consider your source carefully.

  • Examples: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist, People, and Rolling Stone

Primary sources: created during the period being studied, documents what is being studied in some way.

  • Examples: newspaper articles from the time period, government documents, letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, oral histories, museum artifacts, and photographs.

Secondary source: one step removed from an event, analyzes primary sources.

  • Examples: a book about the Vietnam War based on records from the time, a journal article about Dominican immigrants' experiences in the Bronx . (Most books and articles are secondary sources.)

Learn more about where to search for different kinds of materials.

Also consider the purpose of your sources for this research project. What do you hope to accomplish by using sources?

Some common reasons you might use sources in your own work include: 

  • to communicate your understanding of an issue and your credibility 
  • to inspire and enrich your own ideas 
  • to show how your voice enters into an intellectual conversation
  • 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...

Has your professor recommended or required certain types of sources? Some professors require you to use only scholarly (sometimes called academic or peer-reviewed) journals, primary sources, newspapers, or books from the library. Oters might be open to other sources if you can show why they are credible and relevant.

Consider the types of information you need to answer your research question or make your argument. 

  If you need this kind of information:   Try using:
  A general overview of a topic or event
  • Reference resources (such as encyclopedias)
  • Newspapers
  • Books  written for a general audience
  Information about a very recent event or trend
  • Newspapers
  • Magazine articles
  • Reputable blogs/other websites
  Public or individual opinion on an issue
  • Newspaper editorials and articles
  • Magazine editorials and articles
  • Reputable blogs/other websites
  Eye-witness accounts
  • Newspapers
  • Primary sources (diaries, oral histories, etc.)
  Expert evidence or historical context
  • Scholarly articles
  • Books
  • Long-form narrative journalism in magazines
  • Statistical data from reputable sources
  Local information
  • Local newspapers
  • Local government websites
  • Local non-profit organizations' websites
  • Local educational institutions' websites
  • Local businesses' websites
  • Books about NYC
  • Magazines based in NYC

  Information from professionals in the field

  • Depending on the field:
  • Professional or trade journals
  • Scholarly articles
  • Blogs or other informal websites written by professionals


Go back to finding and evaluating sources

 Finding research sources Evaluating research sources


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