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Library Help: Help with Sources

Help with Sources

Your professor says you need sources for your paper. What are sources? Where do you find them? This page will help you get started.

Where to Find Sources

Academic Journals, Magazines, and Newspapers can be both found in digital and print formats. The first place to look for these sources is through the library's electronic databases. If the full text is not available, request an interlibrary loan.

Encyclopedias and books can be both found in digital and print formats. The first place to look for these sources is through the library's online catalog. If not available through the Jackson Library check the PASCAL catalog or request an interlibrary loan.

Reputable websites are another place to find sources. Be sure to evaluate the website to be certain that it is a reputable source.


Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary Sources serve as the original source of information about a topic that was created at the time of the event. These sources can include diaries, manuscripts, recordings, documents, and artifacts.

Secondary Sources are sources that generalize, synthesize, analyze, interpret or evaluate the original information found in primary sources.


Types of Sources

Information can come from virtually anywhere — media, blogs, personal experiences, books, journal and magazine articles, expert opinions, encyclopedias, and web pages — and the type of information you need will change depending on the question you are trying to answer. Look at the following sources of information. Notice the similarities between them. 

Type Information


Magazine (Periodical)

A magazine is a collection of articles and images about diverse topics of popular interest and current events. Usually these articles are written by journalists or scholars and are geared toward the average adult. Magazines may cover very "serious" material, but to find consistent scholarly information, you should use journals.

Use: to find information or opinions about popular culture, to find up to date information about current events, to find articles for people who are not necessarily specialists about the topic.


Academic journal (Periodical)

A journal is a collection of articles usually written by scholars in an academic or professional field. An editorial board reviews articles to decide whether they should be accepted. Articles in journals can cover very specific topics or narrow fields of research.

Use: when doing scholarly research, to find out what has been studied on your topic, to find bibliographies that point to other relevant research



A database contains citations of articles in magazines, journals, and newspapers. They may also contain citations to podcasts, blogs, videos, and other media types. Some databases contain abstracts or brief summaries of the articles, while other databases contain complete, full-text articles.

Use: when you want to find articles on your topics in magazines, journals or newspapers


Newspapers (Periodical)

A newspaper is a collection of articles about current events usually published daily. Since there is at least one in every city, it is a great source for local information.

Use: to find current information about international, national and local events, to find editorials, commentaries, expert or popular opinions



Books cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction. For research purposes, you will probably be looking for books that synthesize all the information on one topic to support a particular argument or thesis. Libraries organize and store their book collections on shelves called "stacks."

Use: when looking for lots of information on a topic, to put your topic in context with other important issues, to find historical information, to find summaries of research to support an argument



Encyclopedias are collections of short, factual entries often written by different contributors who are knowledgeable about the topic. There are two types of encyclopedias: general and subject. General encyclopedias provide concise overviews on a wide variety of topics. Subject encyclopedias contain in-depth entries focusing on one field of study.

Use: when looking for background information on a topic, when trying to find key ideas, important dates or concepts


The Web allows you to access most types of information on the Internet through a browser. One of the main features of the Web is the ability to quickly link to other related information. The Web contains information beyond plain text, including sounds, images, and video.

Use: to find current information, to find information about companies, to find information about all levels of government, to find both expert and popular opinions, to find information about hobbies and personal interests

Creative Commons License Borrowed from Virginia Tech Libraries with modifications.