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BIS 300: Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Danby): Types of Sources

Reference sources

Reference sources are designed to provide background information and history of a topic or to provide access to more specific sources. Examples include: dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, directories. Reference materials can be very general or can be discipline-specific.

Professional or trade sources

Professional, or trade sources provide practical information for members of a profession or industry, including topics like news, trends, products, and research summaries. They are usually written by members of a particular profession or trade, specialized journalists, or technical writers, whose credentials are usually not provided. Documentation of sources is not required, though sometimes brief bibliographies of further readings are included.

Popular sources

Like scholarly sources, popular sources come in many formats, including: books, magazines, newspapers, websites, and pamphlets. They are written for a general audience and the authors generally do not cite sources, use complicated or discipline-specific jargon, or assume readers have prior knowledge of the topic or problem presented. While it is important to be able to distinguish popular from scholarly sources, popular works may be useful to your research. Many primary sources, which can provide cultural context to an issue, are popular sources. 

Scholarly journals and articles

Scholarly sources provide analysis and in-depth discussion of a topic or question and are always argumentative, contributing to ongoing dialogue and debate within one or more disciplines. Examples may include: books, journals, conference proceedings, unpublished or pre-print articles.

General characteristics of scholarly sources:

  • Scholars cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies
  • Scholarly articles are written by a scholar or expert in the field
  • The language of scholarly articles is typically that of the discipline covered
  • Scholarly articles usually assume the reader has some prior knowledge of the topic or problem
  • Scholarly articles are written to report on original research or experimentation in order to make that information available to the rest of the scholarly world
  • Many scholarly journals/articles are published by a specific professional organization or scholarly press
  • Most scholarly articles are “peer reviewed” or “refereed”.  To be accepted for publication in a given journal the author of the article must submit his or her article to be reviewed, usually anonymously, by a panel of experts in the field

Evaluating different types of books

Even in the academic library, not all books are scholarly. This page lists several things to look for when evaluating the type of book you're looking at.