Last Updated: 8 Sept., 2021 | Provide Feedback
Conducting research may require finding information from a variety of sources. Knowing the difference between source types can help improve and speed up research efforts.
Use the drop downs below to learn about each source type. The chart at the bottom of this page offers an at-a-glance comparison.
Example: Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal is a newspaper written for the general public to inform, persuade, or entertain. Some sections may be more business or lifestyle focused, but writers may not be experts in the field in which they write. Cited sources are normally hyperlinks within the text. Content is reviewed by editors before being published.
Popular sources include:
- Fiction books
Example: American Journal of Nursing
The American Journal of Nursing is a scholarly journal written for and by academics and researchers in that field to share ideas and research. Articles are reviewed by experts. Sources are formally cited in the text and include bibliographies at the end.
Scholarly sources include:
- Scholarly journals
- Academic Books
Computerworld is a trade publication written for professionals who work in computing. Articles are written by professionals or journalists who have experience in the field. Sometimes sources may be cited, but often hyperlinks are used within the text. Content is reviewed by editors and working professionals
Trade sources include:
- Industry-specific journals
- Professional association newsletters and magazines
Example: George Mason University theses and dissertations
Grey literature includes a range of sources that are published in-house. For example, theses and dissertations are written by graduate students who have researched extensively in their fields. These works will be long and heavily reviewed. Sources are formally cited in the text and include bibliographies at the end. Grey literature may also include graphics and other ways of displaying information.
Grey sources include:
- Theses and dissertations
- Government reports
- Conference proceedings
|Purpose (Intent)||To inform, entertain, or persuade about current events or popular opinion and to make money||To inform, report, or make available original research, promote scholarly communication, or advance knowledge||To provide news, trends, or practical information or examine problems or concerns in a particular field, trade, or industry||To disseminate research quickly or respond to a public issue|
|Audience||General public||Scholars, researchers, and students of specific discipline or field||Practitioners of a particular field, trade, or industry||Professionals and researchers in the same field or industry and/or policymakers|
|Creator||Professional writers, journalists, freelance writers or creators that deal with a variety of topics regularly||Scholars or researchers with extensive credentials and experience in the specific discipline or field and usually associated with a university or other organization||Professionals or freelance writers or creators with experience in a particular field, trade, or industry||Individual scholars, government agencies, non-profit organizations and institutions, businesses, and think tanks but not through traditional publishers|
|Language (Tone)||Entertaining, non-technical language||Specialized terminology or jargon from the specific discipline or field||Specialized terminology or jargon used in the field or industry||Specialized terminology or jargon used in the field or industry|
|References||Sources rarely cited||Sources always cited||Sources occasionally, but not usually cited. This depends on the publication.||Sources are typically, but not always cited|
|Accountability||Content not evaluated by experts in the field; often published or produced by commercial organizations||Usually reviewed and critically evaluated by a subject expert or board of subject experts (peer review); published or produced by a scholarly organization or society (university, association, commercial enterprise, etc.)||Content may be evaluated by experts in the field; often published or produced by a trade association||Expert review differs for different kinds of grey literature. Many may not be reviewed at all|
Download More Information
For additional information about each source type, use the links below to access a printable handout:
- Popular Sources (PDF)
- Scholarly Sources (PDF)
- Trade Publications (PDF)
- Grey Literature (PDF)
- Reference Sources (PDF)
If you have questions or need more help try Ask a Librarian or explore the subject guide for your discipline. Use the button below to download a printable version of this tutorial.
Types of Sources by The Teaching & Learning Team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.