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College Writing Library Tutorial: Types of Resources

Choosing A Source Type



Provide an overview of a topic or basic information. Sometimes bibliographies of recommended sources on a topic are listed in an encyclopedia article.  There are many subject specific encyclopedias as well as general ones.  Encyclopedias are a good place to look for background information or a place to begin when working with a topic that is unfamiliar. 

Business EncyclopediaArt EncyclopediaEncyclopedia

Explore online encyclopedias at Oxford Reference Online.


Report news events daily--nationally, regionally and locally.  Newspaper articles are primary sources since reporters interview eye-witnesses and persons who are directly involved in an event.

Chicago TribuneWashington Post

Many newspapers are available online.  Some like The New York Times or The Washington Post have limited availability, while others are freely available.

You can search for newpaper articles in Access World News or  Newspaper Source Plus.  Historic Newspapers can be searched using Early American Newspaper, 1829-1922 and African American Newspapers, 1827-1997


Popular Magazines

News events and interest stories for the general public. They have lots of advertising and tend to be highly illustrated. Several databases index both popular and scholarly resources.  Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (H.W. Wilson)  provides access to historic resources in popular magazines.

Timesports illustratednewsweekChristianity todayNew Republic



Scholarly Journals

Publish articles written by scholars to report their research findings. These journal articles are written with other scholars in mind as the research done in scholarly journals is very specific and sometimes very technical.  There are many databases  that index scholarly journals.  Some databases are subject specific, like ATLA Religion Database for topics on Religion and Theology or CINAHL for topics on Nursing. Others like Academic Search Complete are cross-disciplinary and cover lots of topics.

American Journal of PsychologyArt HistoryEarly MusicJournal of Cell BiologyJournal of the Society of Architectural Historians



Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary Sources - first hand or contemporary accounts of an event written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event.  These are often unpublished documents and can include diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, etc.  They can include reports on events if they are close to the event and not historical accounts.

Secondary Sources - interpret primary sources.  They are often published works including books and journal articles but could include radio and film documentaries.  Secondary sources interpret, critique, analyze and assign value to the events in primary sources.



Primary Source - City of God by Augustine

Secondary Source - Levering, M. (2011). Linear and participatory history: Augustine's City of God. Journal Of Theological Interpretation, 5(2), 175-196.

Primary Source - Lincoln's Gettysburg address

Secondary Source - Schwartz, Barry. 1996. "Rereading the Gettysburg Address: Social Change and Collective Memory." Qualitative Sociology 19, no. 3: 395.