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SOCI301: Intro to Sociological Research

Types of Sources

When you are beginning an evaluation of your sources, it can be helpful to determine whether they are intended for a scholarly or general/popular audience. Information you find in both types of sources might be useful for your project. These guidelines can help you decide which type of source you have:

  Popular Sources Scholarly Sources
Purpose Report on current events or entertain Discuss results of research in detail
Author Journalists or professional writers Professors or scholars
Audience General public Researchers in specific academic fields
Language Accessible to a general audience Specialized to an academic area
Sources Cited May quote experts or interviewees; may include in-text links to sources Always include an extensive list of cited sources in a bibliography or footnotes

Evaluating Sources

When you're evaluating information that you find through an online search or through library resources, you can use these questions to help you decide how relevant, credible, and useful a source will be for your project:

Who was involved in creating the source? 

  • Try to identify the name of an author or authors, then do an online search to learn more about them. What gives them authority to produce information on the topic? What limitations do they have? Consider their credentials and experience.
  • What group, institution, or publication is responsible for producing or hosting this source? Do an online search to find out more about this entity. Why do you think they produced this source?
  • How does the source acknowledge or cite the ideas of others? Whose perspectives are represented, and whose may be left out? 

Who is the intended audience? 

  • Consider the visual design of the source as well as the type of language it uses. Who do you think is the intended audience? What does this mean for how you plan to use the source?

When and how was the source created? 

  • What process did the author(s) have to go through to produce this piece? Make a list of steps they might have had to take, from having an initial idea through choosing how to present it to an audience.
  • How long do you think it took for this source to reach its current form? What does that mean for your topic?
  • When was the source published or last updated? What does this mean for your topic?