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Research Basics at NCC: Choose Sources

Choose Sources

Learn how to evaluate sources, the differences between popular, trade, and scholarly (peer-reviewed) sources, and how to decide which are the best to use for your assignment.

Why select certain sources for information?

Sources may all be about the same topic, but the information they give about that topic can differ greatly.

As an example, a newspaper article published the day after an event happened will present far more basic and less detailed information than a research article published years later explaining the causes and lasting impact of the event. 

Using a variety of sources is generally recommended because it leads to a well-rounded, comprehensive paper, but some sources are more appropriate to use for academic, college research than others.

Evaluating Sources

With the amount of freely available information for us to use and the ease of distributing information today, how do you decide what information is best? How do you determine what you are reading is accurate, reliable, and trustworthy?

Thinking critically about the sources you are using for your research is essential. They need to be credible because you will be tying your own credibility and academic reputation to them. Their credibility and quality will affect the quality of your paper or presentation.

When working with a potential source, ask yourself if you know the source, it's reputation, and the reputation of the information itself. If you don't, you will need to look further into it with some additional searching. This might mean looking for the author and publisher's expertise, reputation, background, or their agenda. Or it might mean confirming the individual pieces of information in other sources and considering what the consensus is. 

If the source credits their sources, trace any claims or questionable information back to its original context. It's usually better to use the original source of the information, not the secondary source. This may lead you to more information and other sources you can use as well.

You'll also want to make sure that the information is current enough for your topic. Lastly, remember your purpose. Does the source really meet your needs and answer your questions about your topic? Does it give you the information you need?

The source should be the best source for your needs, not just a source or the first source you found. 

It can be especially difficult to determine and avoid bias. 

Determining Bias

Additional resources for evaluating information:

What is a Scholarly Article / Scholarly Journal?

Comparing Scholarly, Popular, & Trade Articles

There are three types of periodicals (publications produced at regular intervals) that you will come across in your research. The graphic below compares the three - Scholarly, Popular, & Trade - side-by-side, to help you better understand the  similarities and, more importantly, the differences between the three. 

Attributes of popular, scholarly, and trade publications

Scholarly Popular Trade
Written by experts, scholar, or researchers Written by journalists, professional writers, etc. Written by industry specialists and professionals
Written for academics, researchers, and professionals Written for the general public Written for individuals in a specific profession or industry
Reviewed by peer reviewers and/or editorial board Reviewed by professional editors Reviewed by professional editors
No ads, plain in appearance, few color illustrations Simple and non-technical language; colorful ads Industry specific language; some colorful ads
Works cited or bibliography included Works cited or bibliography not included Works cited or bibliography sometimes included
College-level research; data and original research Current topics; when you only need a little information When you need industry-specific information


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