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Online Students- Library Introduction: Types of Sources

There are many different types of sources and they vary in content and credibility. 
The Types of Sources listed below are in order of credibility
with Scholarly sources being the most credible and Everyday sources being the least credible.

For more information about sources types click here.

Types of Sources

Traditional Scholarly Sources include academic books and journal articles written by scholars and researchers for other scholars and researchers.  These sources have been formally published and approved by peer reviewers and/or editors.

Criteria to determine if a source is scholarly or academic:

  • Author
    • Academics, scholars, researchers
    • Experts or practitioners in the field
  • Publisher
    • University press
    • Professional association press
    • Respected scholarly publisher
  • Audience
    • Academics, scholars, researchers
    • Experts or practitioners in the field
  • Content
    • Original research, experimentation, methodology, criticism, ot theory
  • References
    • Formal citations and references
  • Style
    • Academic, technical, and discipline specific language
  • Access
    • Often only available if you pay or your library has access to the source
    • Sometimes available for free online (open access)

Gray literature is scholarly or reliable information that is not formally published, such as conference proceedings, reports, and government documents.  Though it is a reliable source because it is produced by experts, it is not considered as credible a source as traditional scholarly information since it typically is not checked by peer reviewers or editors. 

Criteria to determine if a source is gray literature:

  • Author
    • Academics, scholars, researchers
    • Experts or practitioners in the field
    • Masters or PhD students
  • Publisher
    • Business or industry publications
    • Government publications
    • Unpublished dissertation/theses
    • Not normally controlled by commercial publications
  • Audience
    • Academics, scholars, researchers
    • Experts or practitioners in the field
    • General public interested in this topic
  • Content
    • Research summaries, facts, statistics, and other data
    • Pre-prints (articles written by experts but that have not yet been peer-reviewed or published)
    • Ongoing studies and early results
  • References
    • Will likely include some references, but might not be in a formal style
  • Style
    • Academic, technical, and discipline-specific language
  • Access
    • Often available freely online
    • Sometimes limited to members of the publishing organization or society, or available for a fee

Trade journals are professional publications related to specific industries like business, architecture, or sports therapy.  Information found in trade journals often is written by and for professionals familiar with trends and topics in the field.

While trade journals typically do not include research findings, they are useful sources to familiarize yourself with topics, technical language, and jargon related to the field. 

Non-traditional research sources include academic or professional blogs, wikis, and digital humanities projects. While this information is created by experts, it often is meant for a wider audience and doesn't have the same level of credibility that comes with peer-reviewed scholarly information.  These non-traditional research sources often are more collaboratory and encourage community and user participation. 

Criteria to determine if a source is a non-traditional source:

  • Author
    • Academics, scholars, researchers
    • Experts or practitioners in the field
  • Publisher
    • There is normally not a formal publisher
  • Audience
    • Academics, scholars, researchers
    • Experts or practitioners in the field
    • Students and those interested in the topic
  • Content
    • May be based on original research, experimentation, or criticisms, but will often be commentary about research findings, rather than the findings themselves
  • References
    • May or may not use citations and references to support points
    • If it includes citations they are likely hyperlinked or cited informally
  • Style
    • More informal language and tone
    • Might use some specialized jargon and language
  • Access
    • Often available freely online

Everyday sources could be news articles, social media posts, personal networks, Youtube videos, and infographics.  This category is very broad and can include sources of communication you read, watch, listen to, and participate in.  If can be digital content or conversations with people you know.  Everyday sources typically are the least credible when compared to other categories.

Criteria to determine if a source is an everyday source:

  • Author
    • Anyone interested in the topic
    • They may or may not have experience or expertise in the area they are communicating about
  • Publisher
    • If the source is formally published (like popular books or newspaper and magazine articles), it will be with a commercial publisher or organization (like Random House or New York Times)
    • Most of the time the source is released or shared without being formally published or reviewed by an editor
  • Audience
    • Anyone interested in the topic
  • Content
    • Often presented in a story format, with anecdotal information
  • Reference
    • Rarely will use citations and references to support points
    • If they do, they are likely hyperlinked or cited informally
  • Style
    • Plain, everyday language
    • Informal style
    • Conversational tone
  • Access
    • Often freely available, or available for a small fee

Peer-Review