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What Kind of Source is This?: Home

Why Identify the Type of Source?

Understanding what type of source you are looking at is important for a number of reasons

  1. Knowing the type of sources helps you understand the source's motivation, perspective, and audience.  This helps you determine how credible the source is as well as the type of information you are likely to find in it.
  2. When citing a source, it is a good idea to know what type you are dealing with so you can properly cite it.  Just because a source can be found through Google does not mean it is a website.
  3. When writing about sources in a literature review, annotated bibliography, or any other piece where you introduce sources, it helps to identify them by what type of source they are.  This shows your reader you have spent time learning about the source and that you know what type of source it is, what its purpose is, and who it was written for.


Below you will find common characteristics of sources from the library and internet to help you identify what type of source you have.  If you need further help, contact a librarian.

After you looked at this guide, you're welcome to test your knowledge in the quiz below:

What is a Database?

A database is a collection of materials, often put together because of their subject area or source type.  For example the library has eBook and video databases, but we also have psychology and business databases, called subject databases.

Subject databases do not contain everything on a topic, but have often been created or curated by a publisher, organization, or particular company.  For example,

  • PsycArticles contains American Psychological Association journals
  • MLA International has MLA approved sources
  • IBISWorld (business) contains research and content created by IBISWorld.

Books/eBooks/Book Chapters/Theses & Dissertations

Books and eBooks have

  • Longer page lengths
  • Author(s) named

Book chapters

  • Author(s) for the entire book or Author(s) for the chapter and editors

Both have

  • ISBN assigned (13 digit number sometimes beginning 978-) (books older than 1967 will not have this)
  • Publisher and place of publication

Library databases with eBooks: eBook Central, EbscoHost, JSTOR, Credo Reference, ABC-CLIO

Example Books

Example Book Chapters

Theses and Dissertations

  • Named Author
  • The degree granting university 
  • The degree awarded
  • The advisors



Newspaper & Magazine Articles

  • Reports on current events or issues
    • can also report on popular culture
  • Images of an event or person may be included, usually photographs
  • Can be anonymous or have authors
    • generally written by journalists in either case
  • Shorter in length, not longer than 1-10 pages (magazine articles tend to be longer than newspaper articles)
  •  Lack jargon and can by easily read by most people
  • Generally lack references
  • Can be found on the internet, but should not be treated as websites
    • there are articles that can only be found on the newspaper or magazine's website, but they should still be treated as newspapers and magazines


Reference Book Articles

  • General overview of a topic in a narrative style
    • history
    • vocabulary
    • important people/events
  • May be anonymous or have a named author
    • will depend upon the complexity of the article
    • has editors supervising content
  • Does not take a position on the topic
  • Often suggests further reading

Reference Databases: Britannica Academic, Gale eBooks, CQ Researcher, & Credo Reference

Gale in Context: Opposing Viewpoints also offers reference articles, but its viewpoints that take a position on a topic vary in content type.  Consult a librarian for help with this.

Journal Articles have

  • Abstract
  • Introduction/Literature Review
  • Charts and Graphs
  • Conclusion
  • References/Bibliography/Works Cited
  • Experimental articles have: Methods, Materials/Participants, Results
  • Volume/Issue number

To learn more about journal articles, check out these guides:

Internet Sources


  • Structured menus (home, contact, etc.,) with many subpages
  • Owned by a organization, business, or individual
    • present general information about an organization or business
    • websites belonging to individuals can vary in content, may cover a topic that interests them or a hobby.
  • Copyright date, sometimes a range rather than just one date
  • Doesn't get updated on a daily basis with new content

For citation purposes, make sure you make it clear to your reader if you are using information from the entire website or just one page of the website.

Remember just because it is on a website, doesn't mean it is a website or a page of a website. 

If you are referring to an image or video on the website, it is not a website.  If you have a .gov or .org it may not be a website.  See the Government Document/Organization Report section for more information.


Government Documents/Organization Reports

  • Often has a government office/committee or organization as author (this is the important indicator that it is not a book or article)
    • if individuals are named, they are listed as putting it together for an organization or government group
  • Organizations' reports are often in PDF
  • Government documents can be laws, reports, congressional hearings, and more, often as PDFs too
  • May include data, charts, and graphs
  • May have a document ID number (government documents)
  • May have a table of contents.
  • If you have a website with .org or .gov, consider that it might not be a website.  Spend sometime looking at how the information is presented

These can be found through the internet, eBook Central, and in Fox Hunt.



  • Usually written by an individual (even if it is an organization's blog) so author will be named
  • Anecdotal/personal/specific content
  • Updated on a regular basis (most of the time) so will have a day and time of posting
  • May have the word blog in the URL.
  • May have comments
    • make sure to identify if you are referring to a comment and not the blog post when writing



  • Data Sources can include:
    • Infographics--visual representations of a larger topic using numbers and images
    • Data--tables of numbers
    • Charts/Graphs--graphed representations of data
  • Images
    • Photographs
    • Clip art

When dealing with these, it is best to refer to or cite the specific item that you are looking at and not the article or website where you found it.  Treat it as a source on its own.


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