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Library DIY

Self-help Guide for Navigating the Library

I am not sure what type of sources I need.

First consider the purpose of your sources.

What do you hope to accomplish by using sources? Some common reasons you might use sources in your own work include: 

  • to show how your voice enters into an intellectual conversation;
  • to communicate your understanding of an issue and your credibility;
  • to inspire and enrich your own ideas;
  • to acknowledge the work of others;
  • to connect readers to related research.

Adapted from Yale College Writing Center's "Using Sources" webpage

When using sources for research assignments...

you'll want to see if certain types of sources are required or recommended by your instructor. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals, primary sources, newspapers, or books from the library, while others might leave things more open-ended.

Consider the types of evidence needed to answer your research question or make your argument. 

If you need:

Try using:

Expert evidence Scholarly articles, books, and statistical data
Public or individual opinion on an issue Newspapers, magazines, and websites
Basic facts about an event Newspapers, books, encyclopedias (for older and well-known events)
Eye-witness accounts Newspapers, primary source books, web-based collection of primary sources
A general overview of a topic Books or encyclopedias
Information about a very recent topic Websites, newspapers, and magazines
Local information Newspapers, websites, and books
Information from professionals working in the field Professional/trade journals


Common Terms for Source Types

  • Scholarly article: written by an expert in the field and reviewed by peers in the field, include references and have an academic style. 

Learn more about what "peer-reviewed" means or how to determine if an article is peer-reviewed

Note: In many databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed or refereed journals. However, this option is not perfect, as it may also remove some peer-reviewed content as well.

  • Professional/trade article: published in trade or professional journals and written by experts in the field or by staff writers. These are mainly intended for professionals in a given field but are generally easier to read than most scholarly articles. While not considered 'scholarly,' they may still have useful information.

Examples: School Library Journal, Harvard Business Review, Engineering and Mining Journal, and American Biology Teacher.

  • Popular journals: written for a general audience

Examples: The New Yorker, People, and Rolling Stone

  • Primary source (History): created during the period being studied and provide first-hand evidence about an object, person, or event. 

Examples: newspaper articles, government documents, letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches, oral histories, museum artifacts, and photographs

  • Secondary source (History): created some time after an event has happened and interpret or analyze information from primary sources. 

Examples: a book about World War II based on records from the time, a journal article about Chinese immigrants to Portland (Most books and articles are secondary sources.)