Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
COVID-19 Library Dashboard
Get the latest information on the status of library services and space.
 Ask a Question

Breaking Down a Research Prompt: Source Types

Part of the Fall 2018 "Expand Your Toolkit for Success" Workshop Series

Background Information

Reference sources, like encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, and Wikipedia, provide information such as definitions, brief histories, and biographical information.


The following is an encyclopedia entry about concussions from the encyclopedia The Brain, The Nervous System, and Their Diseases.

Johnson, R. (2014). Concussion. In J. L. Hellier (Ed.), The brain, the nervous system, and their diseases. Westport, CT: Greenwood. Retrieved from

Popular (News & Magazine) Articles

News and magazine sources provide information about current events and social issues, which can help inform academic arguments you are making in your papers.


The following article from Scientific American, a serious science magazine, mentions a new study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which links repetitive head injuries in football players to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Costandi, M. (2017, Aug.). Striking evidence linking football to brain disease sparks calls for more research. Scientific American. Retrieved from


Most of your research prompts will indicate that you should use scholarly sources ot a mixture of source types. Scholarly sources include books edited by a university press and peer-reviewed journal articles. Your instructor may set source minimums, for example, incorporating evidence from 5 peer-reviewed articles, etc.

Keep in mind that different source types fulfill different needs. The minimums instructors set generally refer to the content that you cite in your paper. However, you will often have to use other types of sources to help you formulate a topic. It takes some pre-research to actually find a question to investigate. This means that you will end up reading sources that you won't end up using in the actual paper, but that's part of the research process.

Types of Information

University of West Florida, John C. Pace Library, 4:06

This video covers the purpose (what they are good for) and main features (how to identify) of encyclopedias, news articles, scholarly articles, and monograph books. 

Peer Review in 3 Minutes

North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries, 3:15

This videos explains the peer review process many scholarly articles go through before they are published in journals.


Books are useful for background information and can add depth to a research topic or put your topic in context with other important issues. Some books are also scholarly, such as those published by a university press.


The following is a book about how the NFL denied the scientific evidence about the relationship between football and brain injuries.

Scholarly (Journal) Articles

Many, but not all, scholarly articles go through a peer review process, which means they are checked by academics and other experts. The articles are often based on original studies (surveys, experiments, clinical trials, etc.), reviews of previous research, or theoretical in nature.


The following peer-reviewed article from Brain, a scholarly journal, concludes that repeated head hits, not just concussions, can also lead to CTE.

Tagge, C. A., Fisher, A. M., Minaeva, O. V., Gaudreau-Balderrama, A., Moncaster, J. A., Zhang, X. L., Wojnarowicz, M. W., ... Goldstein, L. E. (2018). Concussion, microvascular injury, and early tauopathy in young athletes after impact head injury and an impact concussion mouse model. Brain : a Journal of Neurology, 141(2), 422-458.