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Selecting Appropriate Sources

Potentially useful information can come from virtually anywhere: personal experience, books, articles, expert opinion, web sites, etc.

Unfortunately, it's easy to spend a lot of time locating sources that are not useful because they offer the wrong types of information. That's why defining our information needs before we start looking can save us time. We will know what to look for.

Our next step should involve thinking about the types of information various source types offer. Knowing these differences will help us figure out what kinds of sources match our information needs and which search tools to use.

The list below gives primary uses for six basic source types: books, journals, magazines, newspapers, reference works, and Internet sites. The attached Choose Sources Based on Information Needs gives you a printable version of this information.


  • in-depth, comprehensive coverage
  • background information
  • historical accounts
  • personal experiences
  • context for topics (social, cultural, economic, etc.)
  • research overviews and summaries
  • collections of topical essays
  • recommended sources and citation lists


  • original research studies and experiments
  • articles by scholars, specialists, and experts
  • research methodology examples
  • reviews of research findings, topics, methods, etc.
  • current research trends
  • citations for research materials
  • academic book reviews


  • popular culture articles and information
  • special interest articles
  • current event updates
  • articles about specific trades or professions
  • editorials and commentaries
  • advertisements
  • social trends, styles, fashion, etc.
  • book and music reviews


  • news about local, national, and international current events
  • editorials, commentaries, and opinions
  • interviews and details about current events
  • information about events as they progress
  • personal and community information

Reference Works

  • collections of facts, data, and statistics
  • geographical and spatial information
  • source lists for information about subjects
  • introductory information about topics
  • definitions and explanations of specialty terminology
  • biographical information
  • instructions and field-specific information (equations, formulas, etc.)

Internet Sites

  • government reports, policies, announcements, and members' information
  • popular culture information
  • open access journals, magazines, newspapers
  • posts on blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • conversion tools (time, currency, etc.)
  • personal and expert opinions
  • commercial and commerce sites
  • advertising

Identifying Periodicals

It is fairly easy to tell articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers apart when we look at them in print. However, we now access most periodical articles online, which can make telling them apart harder.

We can usually identify newspaper articles whether we read them in print or online. However, it is often more difficult to distinguish between articles from other periodical types when we read them online and when we locate them separately from their publications, which happens in most databases and other online search tools.

The next page gives specific characteristics that can help us identify three periodical types: scholarly journal, trade magazine/journal, and general interest magazine.