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EN 111: College Writing

Source Types

Your professor may have defined the number and type of sources you need to consult for your paper. The assignment might say something like "You are required to cite 5-7 reputable sources, at least 3 of which must be scholarly." Check to see what your assignment says. 

This page defines the following published source types:

  • Reference
  • Popular 
  • Scholarly

These published source categories provide different kinds of information that can help you learn more about a topic and make a statement or argument about it in your paper. Other types of evidence, such as information gleaned from personal experience or from interviews, are also relevant for some projects.

Reference Sources

A reference source gives brief information about a topic. This information might be a definition, like in a dictionary, or an overview of a subject or term, like in an encyclopedia. A reference source is useful to learn background information, understand basic ideas about a topic, or to get information like names and dates. 

The library has many subject-specific reference books, both in print and online. Here are a few examples of online reference entries:

Popular Sources

Popular sources are written for the general public and include news media and magazines. These sources take many forms online and in print. Popular sources include news or magazine articles, essay collections, and documentaries, among other things.

Characteristics of popular sources: 

  • Written for the general public.
  • The reader is not expected to have specialized knowledge.
  • Often relatively short articles, though length varies.
  • Cover a wide range of topics.
  • Some articles are mostly informational.
  • Some articles are written to argue/present a specific perspective. 
  • The author is often a professional writer.
  • The author may or may not be an expert in the subject.
  • Might include interviews with experts or people with specific experiences.
  • Should indicate where the information they mention comes from.
  • May include photos or illustrations. 
  • Reviewed by an editor.

" "

Cover of National Geographic

Brittney Griner and Her Fight for Freedom Cover TIME Magazine

Cover of Time magazine

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources are also called "peer-reviewed" or "academic" sources. Academic libraries provide access to many scholarly sources for students and faculty. 

Characteristics of scholarly sources:

  • Usually a report of original research done by the author(s). 
  • Written by scholars and professional researchers.
  • Reviewed by other scholars and researchers in the same field; this is the peer review process.
  • Written primarily for other professionals, scholars, and researchers—but also important for students!
  • Articles are longer, in-depth, and refer to other research with citations.

American Journal of Education cover

Cover of American Journal of Education

Arts Education Policy Review: Vol 123, No 2

Cover of Arts Education Policy Review