Skip to main content

SHB POL104: Types of sources

Source chart

Type of Source Information Use

 Popular magazines/newspapers



  • Author, if identified at all, is usually a journalist, rather than an expert in a particular field of study.
  • Written for a general audience using everyday language
  • Wide variety of content, including news, general interest, popular interest, current events.
  • Include both objective (informative) and subjective (opinion) content.
  • Generally lack in-depth information.
  • Contain graphics and photographs designed to capture the readers' attention
  • For background information on a topic
  • For finding key ideas, important dates or concepts
  • For information or opinions about popular culture
  • For up-to-date information or  current events
  • For local information

Examples:   Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, Sheboygan Press

  Trade or General Interest Journals

  • Written by a variety of lay and professional authors.
  • Written for those who are employed in the field or who have a subject-specific interest.
  • Cover current news, trends and other Information relating to a particular trade, profession, industry or subject.
  • Not "scholarly," but  will often provide detailed information about a topic using less academic language. 
  • Often contain photographs and other graphics.
  • For subject -specific background information
  • For topics of interest to those in a particular trade or profession

Examples:  Beef Today, Chain Store World, Popular Photography

  Scholarly Journals

  • Authors clearly identified, with credentials: scholars or other highly qualified individual
  • Written for other scholars or professionals, using academic language.
  • Cover topics in a single academic or professional field, based on academic research.
  • Very detailed, in-depth information.
  • Usually peer-reviewed - evaluated by others in the same field with the same level of education, to maintain an academic standard of quality
  • Graphics limited to research findings in charts or graphs.
  • Usually follow format: abstract, introduction, discussion and references.
  • For  in-depth information and research
  • For finding other research sources

Examples: The Historian, Journal of the American Medical Association, Child Development


  • Anatomy of a Scholarly Article - Created and maintained by the NCSU Libraries, this interactive page explains how scholarly articles are generally organized.

Books (can be popular or scholarly)

  • Authorship varies, but usually credentialed.
  • Readership varies, but usually readers who want in-depth information
  • Cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction.
  • Coverage is thorough and detailed
  • Will contain photographs and other graphics as necessary to supplement the text.
  • For in-depth information on a topic
  • For putting your topic in context with other important issues
  • For historical information
  • For summaries of research to support an argument

Examples: A Field Guide to Buying Organic, Autism Spectrum Disorders Through the Lifespan, Bon Jovi: America's Ultimate Band

Websites  (can be popular, trade/general interest or scholarly)

  • Written by a wide variety of authors, credentialed, lay and phantom.
  • Written for a general audience, although this varies by the site.
  • Contain a wide variety of information available on the Internet and searched through a browser.
  • For current information
  • For company information
  • For government information
  • For both expert and popular opinions

Examples: (Portal to government information)http://dpla/ (Digital Public Library of America),

Media (can be popular or scholarly)

  • Wide variety of creators, both lay and professional
  • Written for a general audience, although this varies by the media
  • Covers full range of subjects
  • Variety of audio and visual formats, including art, music, video, audio recordings.
  • For information of all types
  • For a different perspective on a topic
  • For images
  • For video or audio clips

Examples: The Civil War: a film by Ken Burns, Monet's Water Lilies, "Ultimate Funny Dog Videos Compilation 2014 - Dogs and Puppies."