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Research Skills for Students

An Open Educational Resource


Categorizing Sources

Once you have your research question, you’ll need information sources to answer it and meet the other information needs of your research project. You’ll usually have a lot of sources available to meet the information needs of your projects. In today’s complex information landscape, just about anything that contains information can be considered a potential source. Here are a few examples:

  • Books and encyclopedias
  • Websites, web pages, and blogs
  • Magazine, journal, and newspaper articles
  • Research reports and conference papers
  • Field notes and diaries

And much more

With so many sources available, the question usually is not whether sources exist for your project but which ones will best meet your information needs. Being able to categorize a source helps you understand the kind of information it contains, which is a big clue to (1) whether might meet one or more of your information needs and (2) where to look for it and similar sources. Understanding how information can be categorized can be helpful; remember that sources can be in more than one category at the same time as categories are not always mutually exclusive.

Formats and The Information Life Cycle

One way to categorize sources is by publication format. One reason is because of the difference in time and effort sources in each format require for their production.

Different formats would include things like books, journal articles, magazine articles, newspapers, social media, and television and film documentaries. (See specific pages in the menu at left for information on books and journal articles). Sources in particular formats simply cannot exist until there has been enough time for people to create them.

The result is that the sources that are created toward the end of the information lifecycle may come to very different conclusions about the event than did those sources created early on. Sometimes the information presented in the later formats is more valid and reliable that what is in those produced earlier. Play the following short video from University of Las Vegas libraries for more information on the Information Life Cycle.