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Types of Sources

About this guide

Information sources are available in a variety of formats each with their own intended audience, purpose, and publication timeline. Identifying these formats can be tricky, especially through websites and databases. This guide will introduce several common formats and provide tips for recognizing different formats when searching in Search@UW and the databases.

Source Visual Characteristics Author(s) Purpose Audience Examples

Newspaper (Periodical)
short; contains byline; no references; contains ads written by journalists or staff writers; reviewed by an editor to inform or comment on current local, national & international events general public New York Times; Green Bay Press Gazette; The Washington Post

Magazines (Periodical)
brief to medium length articles; no bibliography; extensive advertising written by journalists or staff writers; reviewed by an editor to inform, persuade, or entertain depending on audience general public; special interest Time; Newsweek; Psychology Today; GQ; Glamour

Trade Publications (Periodical)
brief to medium length articles; may contain references written by staff writers, professionals, or experts in a profession or trade to inform or report on industry news, trends, products, etc. professionals within a field such as marketing, human resources, teaching, etc. Nursing in Practice, Food Engineering, Publishers Weekly

Scholarly Journals (Periodical)
long articles with a methodology, discussion and conclusion; abstract; language is specialized to field; contains a long list of references written by scholars or experts in a field; peer-reviewed to inform, present original research, and communicate formally with other scholars scholars, researchers, and experts in a field Journal of Psychology; Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; History and Anthropology

Academic Books
comprehensive and long with chapters; has a table of contents and index; extensive list of references written by scholars or experts; reviewed by an editor in the field; published by an academic press to inform, analyze, or communicate broad understanding or in-depth information scholars, researchers and experts in a field; occasionally an educated audience Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success; Evidence-based Practice in Clinical Social Work

Reference Books
short, authoritative entries; may contain a list of references; may identify an author written by scholars or experts; reviewed by editor(s) to inform and provide a brief overview of a topic ranges from experts to general public Encyclopedia of Human Development; The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

Government Documents
ranges from short, brief reports to lengthy multi-volume items written and reviewed by a group of researchers or government office to inform, report, or record (ex: formal court proceedings); provides statistics or in-depth information on an issue scholars, experts, lawmakers, and the general public Congressional Record; Code of Federal Regulations; Occupational Outlook Handbook

Multimedia
radio, television, images, audio (podcasts), films, etc. filmographers, documentarians, radio, television stations and networks, and general public to inform, persuade, and/or entertain typically intended for the general public Audio of NPR segment, Race: The Power of an Illusion (documentary), Lost, image of refugees

Websites
ranges from a few webpages of content to several webpages; usually identified by the domain: .com/.org/.edu/.gov anyone -- includes general public to inform, persuade, entertain, or promote misinformation anyone -- ranges from general public to experts World Health Organization -- who.int; SportsBlog.com; Buzzfeed.com; American Diabetes Association -- diabetes.org

Other Sources

The sources listed above are among the most common found when researching, but there are several other types of sources you may come across.

Refresher: What's a periodical?

A periodical is a newspaper, magazine (popular & trade), or journal published at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, every 6 months, etc.) Here are some examples.

Academic Journal: 
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
Popular Magazine: 
Mother Jones
Trade Magazine: 
Food Engineering
Newspaper: 
Green Bay Press-Gazette