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Selecting the best information source

There are multiple formats and types of sources that you will discover as you begin your research. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each of these can help you make informed decisions in your selections. The chart below provides you with more specific information about the variety of sources you will encounter during your research process.

It's also important to understand when different types of sources will be published about a specific event. The progression of media coverage about a newsworthy event is called the Information Cycle. Knowing when a type of source appears in the Information Cycle can help you select the best source for your research or assignment.

Information
Source

Best For:

The Information:

Watch For:

Books

  • Comprehensive information about the topic
  • Background and historical information
  • Bibliography of other sources
  • Often places an event into some sort of historical context
  • Can provide broad overviews of an event
  • Can be intended for a broad audience depending on the book, ranging from scholars to a general audience
  • Dated information
  • Content level can range from general public to expert
  • Bias or slant (dependent on author)

Popular/Special Interest Magazine

  • Current information
  • Shorter, easy to understand articles
  • Photographs and illustrations
  • Is contained in long-form stories. Weekly magazines begin to discuss the impact of an event on society, culture and public policy
  • Can include detailed analysis of events, interviews, as well as opinions and analysis
  • Offers perspectives of an event from particular groups or geared toward specific audiences
  • Is intended for a general audience or specific non-professional groups
  • Authors are usually not experts
  • Articles can lack depth
  • Sources not always cited
  • Editorial bias of a publication

Professional/Trade
Magazines

  • Specialized information related to a particular discipline or profession
  • Current information
  • Some bibliographies
  • Is contained in long-form articles or reports
  • May provide context and analysis of an event as it relates to a specific interest group
  • Is intended for a professional organizations or groups with similar interests
  • Article length can vary between short, easy to understand to lengthy and highly specific
  • Sources not always cited
  • Characteristics similar to both popular and scholarly sources sometimes make it difficult to recognize source type

Scholarly/Academic
Journals

  • In depth information
  • Articles written by experts
  • Charts and graphs
  • Recent research on a topic
  • Bibliographies of other sources
  • Is often theoretical, carefully analyzing the impact of an event on society, culture and public policy
  • Is peer-reviewed
  • Often narrow in topic
  • Is intended for other scholars, researchers, professionals and university students in the field
  • Terminology and depth of articles may be difficult to understand by novices
  • Dated information (sort your results by date if you are looking for the most recent information, as some journals extend back several decades)

Newspapers

  • Daily information
  • Localized information and events
  • Beginning to apply chronology to an event and explain why the event occurred
  • May include statistics, photographs and editorial coverage
  • Includes quotes from experts, government officials, witnesses, etc.
  • Is intended for a general audience
  • Authors usually not experts

Web Sites

  • Government information
  • Varied points of view on a topic
  • Statistics
  • Company information
  • Is primarily provided through resources like Internet news sites when related to a specific event
  • Explains the who, what, when and where of an event
  • Is intended for a general audience
  • Credibility and accuracy cannot be assured (check for author credentials, publication date, etc.)
  • Information may be highly biased
  • Sources not always cited