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researchHOW - Information Literacy Toolbox: Sources of Information

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Credo InfoLit: Sources of Information


Sources of Information

This module covers how information is created and the many different types of sources that students encounter while doing research.

 Find learning objectives, standards addressed, discussion topics, & activity ideas here


  1. Introduction
  2. Tutorial: Information Has Value
  3. Video: Data, Information, and Knowledge
  4. Video: Primary and Secondary Research
  5. Video: Primary and Secondary Sources
  6. Quiz: Primary and Secondary Sources
  7. Video: Peer Review
  8. Quiz: Peer Review
  9. Video: Types of Sources
  10. Quiz: Types of Sources
  11. Tutorial: How to Read Scholarly Materials
  12. Video: How to Read Scholarly Materials
  13. Instructor Guide 


  1. Introduction
  2. Tutorial: Information Has Value
  3. Video: Data, Information, and Knowledge
  4. Video: Primary and Secondary Research
  5. Video: Primary and Secondary Sources
  6. Quiz: Primary and Secondary Sources
  7. Video: Peer Review
  8. Quiz: Peer Review
  9. Video: Types of Sources
  10. Quiz: Types of Sources
  11. Tutorial: How to Read Scholarly Materials
  12. Video: How to Read Scholarly Materials
  13. Instructor Guide 
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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Source Documents: Someone who is the “first person” creates primary sources; these documents can also be called “original source documents.”  The author or creator is presenting original materials as a result of discovery or to share new information or opinions. Others have not filtered primary documents through interpretation or evaluation. In order to get a complete picture of an event or era, it is necessary to consult multiple—and often contradictory—sources  (i.e., letters, journals, interviews, speeches, photos, paintings, etc.).  Research studies written by the researchers who conducted the study are primary sources in the sciences.

Secondary Source Documents: Materials that are produced with the benefit of hindsight and materials that filter primary sources through interpretation or evaluation. Books commenting on a historical incident in history are secondary sources. Political cartoons can be tricky because they can be considered either primary or secondary.  Articles, books, or other documents discussing research that was not conducted by the writer(s) are secondary sources in the sciences.

Chart by Grossmont College Library

OPVL is an effective tool to analyze primary and secondary source documents.


Origin is where the source comes from.

  • Who is the author/artist?
  • What date it was written/finished?
  • In which country the author/artist was born?
  • Where was the source was produced?
  • In, which format (newspaper, book, letter, etc.), was the source first presented?
  • Is the source a primary or secondary source?
  • What was the historic context in which the source was created?
  • Is there anything known about the author that is pertinent to the evaluation?


Purpose is where you have to put yourself in the author/artist's shoes. The purpose should relate to the origin of the source.

  • What do you think the author was trying to communicate to readers?
  • What ideas/feelings was the author trying to express/evoke? What was the intent of the author?
  • Why did the author create this document?  Why does it exist?
  • Who is the intended audience of this source?
  • The purpose is especially important when it comes to pieces of propaganda as sources.


Value is how valuable this source is. Basically it's linked to the amount of bias in the source:  the more bias = the less valuable (usually). Primary sources are obviously more valuable than secondary/tertiary ones.

  • What value does this source have that might not be available elsewhere?
  • What can one tell about the author/time period because of this source?
  • What was going on in history when this source was created? What new information does this piece bring to the understanding of the topic?


Limitations is also linked to bias, each source will be at least a little biased and thus they are limited by that. Do not state bias alone as a limitation. All sources have bias.

  • Has the source has been translated from the original? (i.e., Hitler's diary entry was  translated into English by a historian and you're using the historian's book as a source)  If so, then the language difference will be another source of inaccuracy and a limitation.
  • What information was not available to the author when the source was created?
  • Did the author get the information from a reliable source?
  • Does the author have reason to emphasize certain facts over other facts?  How might the source be different if it were presented to another audience?
  • What specific information might the author has chosen to leave out?
  • Does the author concede that a certain point as is inconvenient for the author to admit?
  • How might the historical context in which the document was created influence the interpretation of the document?

The following grid can help you understand OPVL by various types of sources.

This is not ALL you need to do for an OPVL, just examples.


Type of Document






Primary, by author for author, rarely published

To keep memories for later (sometimes with eye to publication)

Eyewitness to event and usually written immediately of shortly after occurred, rarely lie to oneself

Only one person’s view, there will be perspective issues, may be intended for publication therefore can even lie to oneself


Primary, by author or interviewee

To offer an eyewitnesses’ perspective on an event


Length of time between events and recollection can lead to loss of info, or changing of story, always perspective issues to be considered


Usually by expert (often academic historian)

To educate colleagues, students, and the public (can be for monetary gain or promotion file)

Usually many years of primary research in archives and thorough knowledge of secondary works on topic

Always perspective issues, usually not an eyewitness, can err deliberately or accidently, not vey useful for quick overview since it will contain many pages of extraneous issues

General Text

Secondary, usually done by a panel of experts on country or topic

To educate students

Offers quick overview for student seeking easy info

Usually NOT an expert on every topic in text so there may be gaps and errors, may be too brief


Primary, done by artist for public at that time

To educate, entertain, and often to sell newspapers or magazines

Offer at least one person’s perspective on issue of the time, event

Don’t know how widespread it is, often exaggeration used for comic effect



For public usually

Offers official view of speaker, it is what audience hears

May not be real views of the speaker, speeches are designed to sway opinion

Internal Memo


For internal examination amongst officials of government depts.

Usually do not lie, so it is official view like a speech but private thoughts are often given too

Do not know what outsiders’ know, only what officials are saying to each other, may be fabricated


your information needs: Resources & Databases

These are reference databases. In general, they are full-text and offer dictionary and encyclopedic articles on a variety of topics. This is a great place to start your research and get basic knowledge, keywords/vocabulary, history/background, and key figures related to your topic.

In these general databases, you will find articles from all disciplines. There are a variety of media types for most subjects and topics. If you are combining topics, this might be a great place to find interdisciplinary articles. Make sure to check "peer reviewed" if the option is available and your professor requires scholarly articles.

Use these databases to find information on contemporary and popular issues. They offer articles on current and controversial topics. Some will have expert pro/con papers from research leaders in their fields of study.

Are you looking for a current topic or one that is related to local information? Comprehensive news collections are ideal for exploring issues and events at the local, regional, national and international level; Its diverse source types include print and online-only newspapers, blogs, newswires, journals, broadcast transcripts and videos.

Search electronic local and global dissertations and graduate theses indexes for access to collected scholarly research.


Also check out our Locating Theses and Dissertations  guide and our A-Z list of dissertation collections.  

Conference proceedings and papers may be published in various ways: as separate, one-time publications; as serials; or as special issues in journals. Sometimes only the abstract is published; sometimes the paper may be obtained only by contacting the author or society; sometimes the full text is on the web. Occasionally the papers are never published but may be cited by authors who attended the meetings. As a result of these variations, locating conference proceedings can be complicated.

Traditional print sources

Books and Textbooks: Books present a multitude of topics. Because of the time it takes to publish a book, books usually contain more dated information than will be found in journals and newspapers.

Academic and Trade Journals: Academic and trade journals are where to find the most up-to-date information and research in industry, business, and academia. Journal articles come in several forms, including literature reviews that overview current and past research, articles on theories and history, or articles on specific processes or research.

Government Reports and Legal Documents: The government releases information intended for its own use or for public use. These types of documents can be an excellent source of information. An example of a government report is the U.S. Census data. Most government reports and legal documents can now be accessed online.

Press Releases and Advertising: Companies and special interest groups produce texts to help persuade readers to act in some way or inform the public about some new development

Media: Printed material is certainly not the only option for finding research. Also consider media sources such as radio and television broadcasts, interactive talks, and public meetings.

Internet-only sources

Web sites: Most of the information on the Internet is distributed via Web sites. Web sites vary widely in quality of information and validity of sources.

Weblogs / Blogs: A rather recent development in Web technology, weblogs or blogs are a type of interactive journal where writers post and readers respond. They vary widely in quality of information and validity of sources. For example, many prestigious journalists and public figures may have blogs, which may be more credible of a blog than most.

Message boards, Discussion lists, and Chat rooms: Discussion lists, chat rooms, and message boards exist for all kinds of disciplines both in and outside of the university. However, plenty of boards exist that are rather unhelpful and poorly researched.

Web Media: The Internet has a multitude of multimedia resources including online broadcasts and news, images, audio files, and interactive Web sites.

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Tutorial: Finding Peer Review Info

Most of the library's research databases include articles from scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.

Learning to identify scholarly (often known as "peer-reviewed") and non-scholarly sources of information is an important skill to cultivate.  Many databases provide help with making this distinction; they will offer options when searching to identify peer-reviewed content.

Additionally, Ulrich's Directory of Publications is a database that can be searched to verify the publication type (scholarly, refereed, magazine, etc).

Each database interface will look a little different, but may include a way to limit your searches to peer reviewed articles. One example is pictured below... just make sure to look for a "peer review" limiter either before or after your search:


Here are the steps for finding Peer Reviewed articles in the library databases:

Go to the Library homepage and click the "off-campus access" button.

Enter your username & password to access the databases when you're not on campus.

Now from the library homepage: Click on the "Research Tools" tab at the top and choose "Research: Start"

There is a list of databases on this page. You can choose ProQuestAcademic Search Complete, or Academic OneFile.

Once your are in the database, choose "Advanced Search"

There will be an option for Peer Reviewed journals or publications; Click it and this will limit to peer reviewed articles

How do articles get peer reviewed?
What role does peer review play in scholarly research and publication?

Peer-reviewed journals only publish articles that have been approved by a panel of experts/researchers/professionals in a field of study. Some research professors/assignments will require that you only use peer-reviewed sources.

The video below, explains peer review and what it means to you; In 3 minutes, viewers of this video will become familiar with the peer-review process and understand its significance to new knowledge production and scholarly research.