5.2 THE BIG PICTURE: Finding Outside Sources of Information

Some sources are better than others

You probably know by now that if you cite Wikipedia as a source of information, your instructor will be unhappy. Why do instructors consider Wikipedia a poor source of information? And what are good sources of information? The table below summarizes types of information sources in four levels. All sources have their legitimate uses (even Wikipedia!), but those in the top levels are preferable for academic writing because they are more objective, reliable, and credible.


Level Type Content Uses How to Find Them
1 Peer-reviewed academic publications Rigorous research and analysis Provide strong evidence for claims and references to other high-quality sources Google Scholar, library catalogs, and academic article databases
2 Reports, articles, and books from credible non-academic sources Well researched and even- handed descriptions of an event or state of the world Initial research on events or trends not yet analyzed in the academic literature; may reference important Level 1 sources Websites of relevant agencies, Google searches using (site:*.gov or site: *.org), academic article databases
3 Short pieces from newspapers or credible websites Simple reporting of events, research findings, or policy changes Often point to useful Level 2 or Level 1 sources, may provide a factoid or two not found anywhere else Strategic Google searches or article databases including newspapers and magazines
4 Agenda-driven or uncertain pieces Mostly opinion, varying in thoughtfulness and credibility May represent a particular position within a debate; more often provide keywords and clues about higher quality sources Non-specific Google searches

Finding the good stuff

Our college library pays big money to subscribe to databases for Level 1 articles. Often they have the full-text of the articles right there for you to save or print. We will visit the library to learn how to use its database, and the librarians are always available to help you, too.

Another increasingly popular article database is Google Scholar (www.scholar.google.com).  It looks like a regular Google search, but it searches more academic work. A similar one for periodicals is Google News (www.news.google.com). Just remember that Google — a private corporation — uses its computer programs to determine which articles to show you, and so you may or may not be seeing everything. Therefore it’s best to check multiple sources, such as both the library and sites like Google.

Tip: Don’t pay for an article for this course. If a web page asks you to pay to access an article, then check first with a librarian! They can often find you the same or similar article for free.



Let’s talk more about why some outside sources of information are better than others. First, watch the video below. Then write a healthy paragraph answering this question: Why are some sources of outside information better than others? Give examples of strong and weak sources. Explain why they are strong or weak.


Text adapted from: Guptill, Amy. Writing in College: From Competence to Excellence. 2022. Open SUNY Textbooks, 2016, milneopentextbooks.org/writing-in-college-from-competence-to-excellence/. Accessed 16 Jan. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA

Video from: NCSU Libraries. “Evaluating Sources for Credibility.” www.youtube.com, 9 June 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=PLTOVoHbH5c&feature=emb_logo. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Synthesis by Timothy Krause is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.