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SHB POL104: Formats of sources

What is the format?

Understanding the formats of sources, and the purposes of each format, can help you determine whether you should use the information for a research paper.  The formats generally fall within 3 main categories: Popular, Trade and Scholarly.  Review these pages to understand the features of each.

Remember, all categories of sources can be found in print and digital media. There are both print and digital collections of popular, trade and scholarly sources. The place (for example, a library or a computer) you find a source does not necessarily define the type of source it is. 

What's scholarly? An interactive video..

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The WHAT...

Sources appropriate for college research:

  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Books
  • Some websites

Sources appropriate for general information and/or background information

  • Encyclopedias
  • Popular Magazines
  • Trade Journals
  • Some websites
  • Popular Media


Is it "scholarly?"

  • Based on academic research.
  • Author(s) clearly identified with credentials.
  • Primarily of interest to others in same or similar field.
  • Usually follow format:  abstract, introduction, discussion and references.
  • Usually “peer-reviewed” articles, which means that the articles are evaluated by individuals in the same field with the same level of education. The purpose of peer-review is to maintain an academic standard of quality.
  • Not based on academic research, but relies on secondary sources for information.
  • Author, if identified at all, is usually a journalist, rather than an expert in a particular field of study.
  • Primarily of general interest.
  • Do not follow any particular format.
  • Not peer-reviewed.