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University of Maryland English Institute

Types of Sources

Think back to assignments you've completed in other classes. The final products you created looked very different depending on your audience, process, and purpose. For instance, a poster informing your peers about the process of photosynthesis looks very different from a civics assignment to write a letter to the editor arguing for changes to the Board of Education's dress code. And a history paper analyzing primary sources from the 1960s looks different from a creative writing exercise reflecting on your personal experiences. 

Published works also look different depending on the author's audience, process, and purpose. Researchers sort sources into broad "types" based on these features. You'll frequently hear your professors refer to sources as being "popular" or "scholarly" -- let's take a look at what that distinction means, and how you can use these types of sources in your COMM107 research. 

Popular Sources

  • Audience: the term "popular" in this case doesn't mean "trendy" -- it means that these types of sources are written for a popular, or general/non-expert, audience. 
  • Process: newspaper and magazine articles are reviewed by editors prior to publication; personal websites or social media posts are not formally edited by anyone other than the author. 
  • Purpose: some popular sources, such as news articles, are intended to report on facts and inform readers. Others, such as op-eds or personal blogs, are meant to share personal experiences or opinions. 
  • When to use: popular sources are great for representing a particular stakeholder's viewpoint, for relevant anecdotes and personal experiences, for building a timeline of events, and for reports written in accessible language for non-experts. 

Scholarly Sources

  • Audience: written by researchers for other scholars and students; as a result, the language in these sources tends to be very jargon heavy, and less accessible for non-experts.
  • Process: scholarly articles undergo a process called "peer review," in which other experts in the author's field review the author's article and evaluate the article's argument, sources, and research methodology to determine whether it meets the standards of their discipline. 
  • Purpose: scholarly sources present original research, and have a central thesis or argument that they are trying to prove via that research.
  • When to use: when writing your own academic research, incorporating scholarly sources is essential in order to demonstrate that you understand conversations in your discipline and that your own research is a unique contribution to those conversations. In your COMM107 assignments, you can cite scholarly sources in order to inform your audience about scholarly debates, and to offer research-based evidence in support of your arguments. 

Evaluating Sources

Not all popular or scholarly sources are trustworthy or appropriate for your specific assignment. How do you decide whether a source is credible or relevant? Check out this worksheet for guidance on evaluating sources. If you get stuck, you can always contact a librarian for help!