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DIY: Research Help

A continually evolving suite of research help content focused on helping you navigate the research process.

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Matching a Source Type to Your Information Needs

Information needs are why you need sources. Meeting those needs is what your sources should do so that you can complete your assignment, project or paper.

Start by checking your assignment! Your professor may specify what type of sources they recommend or require you to use while at other times they may specify what types of sources you can't use for your paper or project. If your professor leaves it up to you, here are some things to consider:


  • Do you need info about an event that happened in the past week, month, year, decade, century, or earlier?
  • How new or old is your topic?
  • Is your topic in a discipline that is in a state of constant change like medicine and technology or does it evolve more slowly?
  • Are you doing a retrospective project where you are tracing the history of a topic/event or comparing it across different time periods?

Do you need popular sources, scholarly sources or both?

  • Popular sources are geared for a general audience, they are something that anybody can read/watch and understand with little or no  prior knowledge or expertise on the topic. They are usually to inform, entertain or persuade. They can be a lens for viewing "pop culture" or a "time period" and may be the only sources available on current events, issues and opinions.
  • Scholarly sources are geared towards researchers, professionals and academia. Often times they go through a vetting process called peer review where scholars/experts in the same field make sure it is high quality, relevant, valid, and so on before an article is published in a scholarly journal or a book is published through a university press.

Do you need primary sources, secondary sources or both?

  • Primary sources by definition means that you are using the original source such as the actual book Mockingjay, an empirical research study, or eyewitness accounts. What is considered a primary source varies across disciplines.
  • Secondary sources are ones that uses the original information or work of others to relate or discuss that information or work such as an article that discusses the themes from the book Mockingjay, a literature review of other researchers' research, or a dramatic movie portraying an event.

Struggling with identifying your information needs or determining the types of sources that will help you fill those needs? Talk with your professor. Chat with your librarians.