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FIRE120: The First-Year Innovation and Research Experience Semester I

Kinds of Sources: What am I looking at?

For most academic work, you'll be looking at scholarly sources. However, there are other kinds of sources that can help you when you're researching. Here is a break down of these sources to help you figure out what you've found when researching:

  • Scholarly Sources are written by experts for experts, expands knowledge of a field with original research, and are usually peer-reviewed before publication and have citations and references to other works. These sources include scholarly journals, peer-reviewed articles, and academic books.
  • Popular Sources are written by authors who may or may not be experts, used to inform the general public about an issue and can include resources like magazines, newspapers, or blogs, among others. 
  • Trade Sources are specialized popular publications for a particular industry that are written for people in that field and can include promotional materials, information about specific products, and news in the field.

Your Audience: Who's going to read it?

You probably wouldn't take you grandmother to see The Fast and The Furious. Why? Because she isn't the intended audience for that movie. Knowing your audience when you start writing a paper or working on a project will help you develop a better argument. You audience will shape which sources you use, the way you write, and the way you style your paper or project. Once you have a topic or issue, here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Who is going to read this?
  • Who is affected by this issue?
  • Are there publications for or by those that are affected?
  • Where can I find more information?
  • Who can I ask for help on this issue?

Determining Validity: Is this source any good?

When you do research, you'll find many things, but how do you know if what you've found is "good"? You'll need to evaluate the source to make sure it is appropriate for your research. Here are some questions you can ask to evaluate the validity a source:

  • Who is the author? If an author is associated with a university, government agency, or corporation, this will be noted in the article. You can always so a separate search to learn more about an author, such as their educational background or other research that they've done. You should try to determine if the author is an authority in the field.
  • Where did the author get their information from? Check to make sure that the authors have done their homework by looking at the bibliography. See who is cited by the article and where those sources were published.
  • What if there are no references? Sometimes no sources will be listed in popular resources like newspapers and magazines. If this happens, do some background research yourself. See what other information you can find on people and events mentioned.