Skip to main content

NHECHS - HCCS Library Instruction: The Source

This guide compiles instructional materials selected by HCC Librarian Jenn B. Stidham for library instructions sessions designed for North Houston Early College High School students.

Categorizing Sources

Categorizing Sources

 

Categorizing Sources

Understanding types of sources helps guide your search.

Once you have your research question, you’ll need information sources to answer it and meet the other information needs of your research project.

This section about categorizing sources will increase your sophistication about them and save you time in the long run because you’ll understand the “big picture”. 

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
  • Photographs, paintings, cartoons, and other art works
  • TV and radio programs, podcasts, movies, and videos
  • Illuminated manuscripts and artifacts
  • Bones, minerals, and fossils
  • Preserved tissues and organs
  • Architectural plans and maps
  • Pamphlets and government documents
  • Music scores and recorded performances
  • Dance notation and theater set models

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.

A source can be categorized by:

  • Whether it contains quantitative or qualitative information or both
  • Whether the source is objective (factual) or persuasive (opinion) and may be biased
  • Whether the source is a scholarly, professional or popular publication
  • Whether the material is a primary, secondary or tertiary source
  • What format the source is in

As you may already be able to tell, sources can be in more than one category at the same time because the categories are not mutually exclusive.

Popular, Professional, & Scholarly

Popular, Professional/Trade, & Scholarly

Popular Soures logo

We can also categorize information by the expertise of its intended audience. Considering the intended audience—how expert one has to be to understand the information—can indicate whether the source has sufficient credibility and thoroughness to meet your need.

There are varying degrees of expertise:

Popular – Popular newspaper and magazine articles (such as The Washington Post, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone) are meant for a large general audience, are generally affordable, and are easy to purchase or available for free. They are written by staff writers or reporters for the general public.

Additionally, they are:

  • About news, opinions, background information, and entertainment.
  • More attractive than scholarly journals, with catchy titles, attractive artwork, and many advertisements but no footnotes or references.
  • Published by commercial publishers.
  • Published after approval from an editor.

Professional/Trade – Professional magazine articles (such as Plastic Surgical Nursing and Music Teacher) are meant for people in a particular profession, and are often accessible through a professional organization. Staff writers or other professionals in the targeted field write these articles at a level and with the language to be understood by everyone in the profession.

Additionally, they are:

  • About trends and news from the targeted field, book reviews, and case studies.
  • Often less than 10 pages, some of which may contain footnotes and references.
  • Usually published by professional associations and commercial publishers.
  • Published after approval from an editor.

Scholarly – Scholarly journal articles (such as Plant Science and Education and Child Psychology) are meant for scholars, students, and the general public who want a deep understanding of a problem or issue. Researchers and scholars write these articles to present new knowledge and further understanding of their field of study.

Additionally, they are:

  • Where findings of research projects, data and analytics, and case studies usually appear first.
  • Often long (usually over 10 pages) and always include footnotes and references.
  • Usually published by universities, professional associations, and commercial publishers.
  • Published after approval by peer review or from the journal’s editor.

ACTIVITY: Popular, Professional, or Scholarly?

Open activity in a web browser.

©2020 Houston Community College Libraries