Evaluating Information Sources: Information Source Types

Provides guidance on evaluating the credibility of information sources, including books, journals, the open Internet, and primary sources.

Introduction

In general, information sources tend to be categorized as:

  • popular or scholarly/academic, based primarily on content level, intended audience, and the rigor of the pre-publication review/editing process
  • primary, secondary, or tertiary, based on immediacy of the author or creator to the content/event

Open Internet & Social Media Information Sources

Anyone can publish material online through blog/web services or social media. Such writing or commentary is well suited to quick communication and often includes brief postings on topics of conversation between the author and reader. Some columnists and writers for traditional publications also publish blogs to extend their interaction with readers. Remember to ask yourself:

  • Who is this author?
  • Does he/she have relevant expertise and experience on the topic at issue?
  • Are his/her claims adequately supported?

See The Open Internet tab for more information.

Types of Information Sources

There are many types of information sources. The following are traditional source types often used in college-level assignments:

  News Sources Popular Magazines Trade Journals Scholarly Journals Academic Books
Purpose

- inform about current events & topics

- provide basic facts & details

- inform &/or entertain about current or recent events & topics - inform & report on news, trends, & issues relevant to an industry or profession

- inform & report on research done by scholars & experts

- cover specialized academic topics

- provide a thorough, comprehensive examination of academic topics
Author

- journalists, freelance writers, or editorial staff

- brief editing process

- journalists, freelance writers, or editorial staff

- brief editing process

- journalists, freelance writers, editorial staff, or industry practitioners

- brief editing process

- subject specialists & experts

- extensive editing process

- usually peer-reviewed*

-  subject specialists & experts

- extensive editing process

Audience

- anyone

- appeals to non-specialists

- anyone

- appeals to non-specialists

- those who work in a particular field or profession - researchers, scholars, higher education students - researchers, scholars, higher education students
Other Characteristics

- brief, published &/or updated daily

- often a good source for editorials/opinion pieces

- short or medium-length articles

- published weekly/monthly

- often a good source for features, opinion pieces, interviews

- usually short or medium-length articles

- may include brief reference lists/works cited

- usually published monthly

- specialized & lengthy articles

- include reference lists/works cited

- takes months to publish due to extensive editing process; often published quarterly

- include reference lists/works cited

- takes months or years to publish due to extensive research, writing, & editing process

 

* Peer review is a process in which experts from the same subject field or profession as the author evaluate a manuscript prior to acceptance for publication.

Based on a chart by Kerry Creelman, Univ. of Houston Libraries, which was adapted from content by Kristina De Voe, Temple Univ. Libraries.

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