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Humanities LibreTexts

11.2: Sources

  • Page ID
    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

    It is possible to divide sources up into categories. You can save time in writing by focusing on the best sources. This is true in academic assignments as well as writing you may do for a job.

    Types of sources

    A useful way to categorize sources is as follows:

    • Excellent sources. The best sources to use are called primary sources. These are the actual text of a work, such as an eyewitness report, the word-for-word law, the text of the most important book/s in the field, or, (sometimes, but rarely) the text of the important article in the most important journal/s in the field. An excellent source is any text that important experts and stakeholders turn to when they have to make a decision in real life about any given topic.
    • Good sources. Articles (online and in print) and books written by academics about the topic area you chose. Also, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks.
    • Other sources. Magazine and newspaper articles, or articles authored for use on the internet only.

    Examples of types of sources

    • If I am writing about Shakespeare, an excellent source is Shakespeare himself. A good source is a book written recently by a scholar about Shakespeare.
    • If I am writing about the criminal mind, excellent sources are articles and books about the criminal mind, as well as important court cases and texts of law and psychology that govern how we deal with and think about the criminal mind.
    • If I am writing about how my summer vacation went, the first most excellent source would be myself. The second would be my mom, or other people who know the most about what I did.
    • If I am writing to argue for or against a local bar ordinance in my hometown, excellent sources would be the text of the ordinance itself and a statement given by the chief of police. Good sources would be articles in academic journals about local bar ordinances as well as any articles in local newspapers that cover the topic of the ordinance carefully.
    • If I am writing about American policy on the war in Afghanistan, an excellent source would be a government document that governs the policy of the war today. Another excellent source would be a widely-read book or article about the war written by an expert in the field. A good source would be an academic journal article about the war written by an academic.

    In general, original texts and those texts that people read and routinely refer to are the best texts.

    A tip for finding sources

    Read the abstract first, to see if you need to read the entire article. If there is no abstract, read the first few paragraphs to see if you need to read the entire article.

    Finding sources

    Where do you find information on a topic? Google it, obviously! Yes, in the early college courses you’re taking, the internet likely has all the information you’ll need to address your writing topics. This might also be true in the working world. There are many other resources, however, worth your consideration. Varying your source type will make your research stronger and show that you’re a thoughtful writer.

    Also, remember: you need to consider your audience and purpose before you start your research to determine what that group might need in terms of outside sources.

    Finding sources: Basic search engines

    The information you need is right at your fingertips. This is a cliché for a reason: it’s true! Going online is the easiest way to research your topic. Most of us use Google, but Ask, Bing, Yahoo, among others are also popular, and we can easily pull these up on desktops or laptops or as apps on our smartphones. Yes, it’s easy to find information using a search, especially when the search engine offers search terms for us as we’re typing in what we’d like to find.

    There are a few things to watch out for, though. First, many search engines will give you search results based on previous searches. This means that when you Google “political correctness,” the search results you get might be different than your buddy Malcolm’s, which might also be different than Ariana’s. Also, you want to be clear about your search terms. Instead of searching for “Lyme disease,” which will likely give you a basic definition along with over 60,000 results in less than a second (that's a LOT of information!), search for “Lyme disease Minnesota” or “Lyme disease alternative treatment” for more specific information and data. You can also type in questions, like “Can Lyme disease be cured?”

    Remember, though, that just because a source looks good, that doesn’t mean it is good. And by “good,” we mean appropriately scholarly or professional for your topic and purpose.