Types of Sources

Learning Objective

  • Differentiate types of sources

It is probably an oversimplification to boil research sources down to three categories. But, for the work you’re doing now, this taxonomy for identifying sources makes sense. As you move through the content and practice activities on this page, think about how this method of differentiating sources aligns to your own experience with research.


Is a “print” source always on paper when you receive it? Well, not really. Digital databases and the internet have made the line between “print” and “online” sources more gray than you might expect. A good rule to follow when thinking about whether a source is “print” or “online” is to look at the original intended method of delivery. The New York Times is a print newspaper, even if many of its readers receive its content online. In addition to the fact that an interested reader can actually purchase a physical copy of any given day’s New York Times, its organizational structure is that of a print newspaper.

The same thing is true for academic journals and articles. For the most part, you will access academic journal articles from online databases through your university library or with tools like Google Scholar. Most of these journal articles are delivered to you in PDF format: PDF is a filename extension for Portable Document Format. It’s one of the closest digital file formats to “print.” Thus, academic journal articles are almost always considered “print” sources. In many style guides, you would cite an academic journal that you viewed from a PDF the same as you would if you were citing the same article from a bound journal in your hands.

Unfortunately, identifying what is and isn’t a print source is not always so easy. Take, for instance, The Huffington Post. In many ways, its website is similar to that of the New York Times. However, The Huffington Post has always been completely online. A print copy of the Post has never existed. Beyond that, though, if you take time to examine its organizational structure, the way it publishes and vets content, and the overall scope of Huffington Post, it’s clear that it is much more like Buzzfeed than The New York Times. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad source, by the way. Buzzfeed has won Pulitzer Prizes for some of its journalism. But you can’t call it a print source, and you probably can’t call The Huffington Post a print source either.

On the other side of the campus fence are online-only academic journals. These journals, like Kairos, are peer-reviewed, respected academic journals: Publishing an article in Kairos would be just as credible and noteworthy as publishing an article in Computers and Writing, a traditional print journal. So is Kairos a print source? Probably not. But it is a scholarly source. Remember that it’s always a good idea to look at a source through both lenses: scholarly vs. non-scholarly and print vs. online vs. multimedia.


  • Books
  • Journal Articles
  • Magazine Articles
  • White Papers
  • Traditional Encyclopedias (like Encyclopedia Britannica)
  • Reports


Are all online sources bad? Is Wikipedia destroying legitimate research? Should you monkishly eschew all rooms with available WiFi when doing your research? Of course not, on all three accounts. Online sources have their place, and there are good online sources and bad online sources.

What are some online sources that might be useful in your research process? Here are a few examples:


  • Government information or statistics
  • Company financial reporting data
  • Blogs by public figures
  • Websites of businesses or organizations
  • Online magazines or newspapers
  • Discussion boards or forums
  • Wiki-style encyclopedias (like Wookiepedia )
  • Online academic journals
  • Online academic monographs (books)

The quality of these sources can vary widely. You should carefully evaluate all online sources for credibility and relevance. You’ll learn the methods of evaluating an online source later in the module.



What do we mean by “multimedia” sources? Well, basically anything that doesn’t fit neatly into the category of “print” or “online” lands here. Depending upon the nature of your project, you may need to use videos, photographs, podcasts, or even songs as sources. As the researcher, you have the responsibility of vetting these sources, just as you would a website or a book. Sometimes multimedia sources can lead to vibrant and engaging research, so you should not discount their usefulness.

What are some typical multimedia sources that you might look for? Here are a few examples:


  • Documentaries on Netflix
  • Interviews of public officials on YouTube
  • Podcasts about current events
  • Photo essays on the New York Times website
  • TED talks
  • Raw video of events broadcasted to Facebook Live