Part 1: Start Your Research Process

9 Information Sources

Do source Types Matter?

Have you ever received a research assignment and one of the requirements your instructor made was to find a variety of sources: books, magazines, newspapers, journal articles, and media resources? Did you ever wonder having that variety makes a difference to your research?

Sources are created in different contexts, for different audiences, for different purposes, and with different standards of quality. Requiring a variety of sources doesn’t just mean you’re going to have to search in a variety of different tools, it means you’re going to get a variety of perspectives, from a variety of authors, and it’ll get you to interact with the content in a variety of ways (like watching, listening, or reading).

When you’re being strategic about your research process, you’ll want to plan out the type of sources you need appropriate to your topic and the requirements of your assignment. It’s like creating a map to help you navigate the wild outback of overwhelming information. Why wander around lost, when you can plan a direct route? Taking that extra minute to understand how information is created and delivered through a variety of formats will help you in selecting the best sources to meet your information needs.

Source Types

There’s no such thing as a good source or a bad source, just sources appropriate and inappropriate to your information need. The process of information creation is complex and results in a variety of formats and delivery modes, each having a different value in a given context. And there are so many source types out there, it can be overwhelming. The following is not inclusive, but a  short list of the most common source types you might encounter during your research process. Click on the arrows below to learn more about each source type.

Information Timeline

The process of information creation follows a timeline. As soon as an event occurs, social media and online news sources are the first to provide coverage. Magazines and newspapers will follow shortly after, and journal articles and books take even longer to get published.

Knowing this will be important in your research: if you choose a very recent event to write about, you will likely not find information about it in a book or scholarly article. You may, however, need to expand your topic to look for a similar or related event, or broader treatment of the subject, to find sources that you can still use to support your writing.

Sections of this chapter were adapted from the following:
Doing Research by Celia Brinkerhoff, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler, Aloha Sargent, and Kelsey Smith, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to Finding Information by Kirsten Hostetler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.