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Understanding Different Source Types

Categorizing Sources by Format

One way to categorize sources is by format - is it a book, an article, a website, a report, a video, etc.? Format isn’t always going to be an indicator of quality - a book isn’t automatically a higher quality source than a website, for example - but when you’re doing research, you may find that different source formats serve different purposes for you. 

You may be required to use a specific type or types of source formats for an assignment. For example, your professor may ask you to use at least one book or a certain kind of article. In other cases, you will be choosing a source format based on your specific information need. This page from Brookens Library at University of Illinois Springfield provides a handy table that lists some common source formats, what kind of information you can expect to find in that source format, what you might use it for, and some selected examples. A more stripped-down (but still very useful!) guide from Worcester Polytechnic Institute recommends that you “Select sources after carefully thinking about the types of information that you would like to find” and provides examples of what types of information you might be looking for, paired with recommended source formats.

The video below from BYU Library Online Learning also explores source formats through the lens of information needs:

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