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ITE-115: Virtual Library Instruction: Types of Sources - Review

Identifying Types of Sources Video Tutorial

Types of Information - Comparison Table




Reference Books:

  • Almanacs 
  • Dictionaries
  • Directories
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks

Reference books provide overviews on any given topic. They can include background information, factual data, key ideas, important dates, and concepts. Can be general (e.g., Oxford World Encyclopedia) or specialized (e.g., Military & Government Collection). 

When to use: 

  • If you know very little about your topic, reference sources are an excellent place to start research.


  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Primary
  • Secondary

Books cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction. Books typically provide an in-depth examination of the given topic, usually from a retrospective point of view. Most research-oriented books are works of non-fiction (e.g., textbooks).  Fiction works include novels, short stories, and poetry. For research purposes, you will probably be looking for books that synthesize all the information on one topic to support a particular argument or thesis.

When to use - need:

  • historical or detailed information on a topic such as the civil rights movement in the United States.
  • to put your topic in context with other important issues.
  • summaries of research.
  • to support an argument.
  • need several points of view in one book such as collected critical essays on Shakespeare’s works.

Periodical articles:

  • Journals
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers

Periodicals are published on a regular ongoing basis (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly).  Journal, magazine, and newspaper articles tend to be more specific or about certain aspects of an issue compared to books. Periodicals provide up-to-date information on the latest developments on various issues or current events and are usually from a contemporary point of view. Articles can be brief & general or in-depth & focused in on a very specific or local topic.

When to use - need: 

  • up-to-date information about current issues, popular culture, or international, national and local events.
  • to read various points of view or popular opinions (e.g., editorials, commentaries).
  • scholarly articles or original research.
  • to find out what has been studied on your topic.
  • need references that point to other relevant research (journal articles).

Government Documents:

  • Local
  • National
  • Worldwide
  • Statistics

Government (international, national, state and local) provide both historical and current information, and statistical data.

When to use - need: 

  • information from various levels of government or on various social issues.
  • historical or current data or statistics.


  • Images
  • VIdeos
  • Audio

The Web allows you to access most types of information and multimedia on the Internet through a Web browser such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge. One of the main features of the Web is the ability to quickly link to information. The Web contains information beyond plain text, including images, sound, music, and video.  Since anyone can publish on the web, you need to carefully evaluate what you retrieve through search engines such as Google or Bing.

When to use - need: 

  • an image, video clip, or audio clip for your presentation, blog, etc. because it better conveys a message, feeling, thought, etc.
  • news stories on current events.
  • expert and popular opinions on various issues.
  • company information.
  • information from various levels of government.
  • information and online resources provided through the Reynolds Libraries

Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Popular Magazines

Scholarly journals and popular magazines are two types of periodicals that you will encounter when searching for articles for your research assignment. Understanding the differences between the two types of periodicals will help you evaluate and select appropriate articles for your assignment. Read the infographic below to learn about the major differences between these two types of periiodicals and when it is best to use scholarly or popular articles.

For a larger view of this infographic, click here.

Infographic reused from Find Journal Articles guide, with permission from Pao Yue-kong Library, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.