This Libguide is to help students judge the appropriateness of various types of sources by evaluating their currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. It is an introduction to spotting misinformation, bias, disinformation and fake news, and gives some tips on how to quickly evaluate sources in order to see if they credible and reliable.
When conducting research, it is important to evaluate the information you find as well as the source it comes from. Depending on the topic, research question, etc., different types of sources are better suited to addressing the information need. Additionally, sources themselves should be evaluated using certain evaluative criteria.
There are many sources available for people to seek and find information. These sources provide varying amounts of information related to the scope and depth of information they provide. Understanding the type of information each source provides can help us determine the best source(s) for our information need.
Types of Information Sources:
Reference/Background sources provide quick facts and a brief overview of topics. Reference sources don't provide any analysis or interpretations of topics. Background sources are useful for getting a basic understanding of a topic. They're a good place to start when doing research, especially if you aren't familiar with the topic.
Books cover topics more in-depth and have a narrower focus than background sources. Since books are longer than entries in a reference source, they are able to provide more detail about a topic. Since they provide more in-depth, detailed information on a topic, sometimes it's more information than you need. However, you can choose to use only certain chapters or sections from a book.
News sources can include newspapers, the internet, radio, and television. These types of sources provide immediate, up-to-the minute information. However, the depth of the information is shallow and are secondary in nature, meaning they're reporting on events second hand.
Magazines offer longer articles than news sources, and can be general in nature, or more specific. For example, a science magazine would provide articles specific to science, while Time magazine provides articles on a wide range of topics. The articles are more in-depth than news sources, but less in-depth than books. Magazines are published approximately every week or month, have a short time to publication (unlike a book which takes some time), and are popular in nature (not scholarly). Magazines are a good source for current events and up-to-date information.
Journals offer research-based articles that are more in-depth than magazine or news sources. The articles are written by experts in the topic, contain primary research, and are narrow in scope. Journals are scholarly in nature and considered a good, reputable source to use for academic work. Journals are a good source to use to help you support or contradict your thesis statement.