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.
library logo

Ask us!

English I Articles for Discussion

Distinguishing source types

Recognizing the type of source you are looking at when researching will help you understand how that source can best be used in your research. There are three elements you can consider to distinguish between different types of sources.

Who is the intended audience?

General sources are intended for a general audience; readers don't need to know anything about the topic to understand the information.

General sources use plain language and will define special terms so readers who are new to the subject learn the vocabulary. 

Academic sources are intended for an audience that already has background knowledge of the subject.

Academic sources use more specialized vocabulary and are written at a more complex or sophisticated level for people who are knowledgeable about the topic already.

What type of information does the source provide?

General sources provide, basic, straightforward, or strictly factual information, usually to educate people who are new to the topic. 

General sources may provide analysis or an argument, but in a way that is easily understandable to the general public and usually just covering the surface of an issue.

Academic sources provide complex information about a topic so advanced readers can dig deeper into the issue.

Academic sources often include more data or statistics, a sophisticated argument supported with evidence, or the results of research.

What is the purpose of the source? 

General sources are often intended to educate on facts and basic knowledge or to offer a basic opinion or perspective on an issue.

General sources may be used to primarily influence the audience to one side of an issue or to sell a product or idea.

Academic sources are usually intended to demonstrate an idea or argument using research and sophisticated analysis of the issue.

Academic sources often share the results of scientific or social research studies with other experts in that field.