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InfoSkills voor Rechtswetenschappen

InfoSkills @ TiU

Source type categories

Is this the right source to use?

You'll probably often wonder that when searching for appropriate materials for an assignment. Above all, follow your lecturer’s guidelines for choosing sources. He or she may have requirements for a certain number of articles, books, or other sources you should (or should not) include in your paper. 

Credible sources

It has become clear on the last pages that formally published, scholarly sources have the highest possible level of credibility. Generally speaking, most of the information you use for a university-level assignment should come from this type of source. But remember that a scholarly article or book may not be suitable for use in your paper, for example because it's outdated or because it highlights an aspect of your subject that you're not looking for. You'll need to critically evaluate every source that's eligible to use.

In addition to scholarly articles and books, you may also need a variety of other reliable sources, for example (statistical) information, evidence and examples. Earlier we identified two dimensions of information sources: intended audience and publication status. In the table below the intended audience dimension is plotted against the formal/informal dimension. The resulting matrix provides a framework for identifying nine different source type categories. Basically, all nine of them may be helpful in some way, provided that you choose carefully.

Let's look at the source type categories in more detail. 

  Popular Professional Scholarly

Formally published

Good for current information about international and national events. Stick to their news reporting and avoid opinion pieces. Note that newspaper articles typically lack depth and background information.
Ex.: de Volkskrant; The Times. ​
Designed to be easy to read, which can make them a good starting point when first trying to understand a topic.
Ex.: New Scientist, The Economist. 

Professional journals
These cover new developments in a particular profession or industry, and publish brief reports on research as well as feature articles that focus on topics of interest to professionals in the target community.
Ex.: Consumer Marketing, Adweek.

Scholarly journals
In most fields (including economics and the social sciences) scholarly journal articles are considered to have the highest scholarly value of all source types. They contain the most-up-to-date research in a given field. Note that some informally published sources, such as conference papers, research reports or working papers may provide even more current information.
Journal of Social Economics, Sex Roles, Journal of Religious History.
Those associated with formally published sources, e.g. the Journal of Institutional Economics' blog.

Formally published


Choose (non-fiction) books dedicated to a 'serious' subject. Like popular magazines, popular books can be useful for familiarizing yourself with a subject.
Ex.: 'This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession'.


Professional books contain reliable and in-depth information, such as best practices (documented strategies and tactics employed by top-performing organizations and companies). Choose recent books, as information from professional books gets outdated fast.
Ex.: 'Mental health in the workplace: Strategies and tools to optimize outcomes'.

Scholarly books
Very important in the humanities and theology. 
Ex.: 'Rationality and decision making: From normative rules to heuristics'.

Informally published 

While typically not used in academic papers, these sources can be useful. They don't assume prior knowledge of a subject area - for this reason, they are often very helpful to read if you don't know a lot about your subject yet.

Here are a few examples:

News sites
Ex.:, the Washington Post website). Note that a newspaper's website is NOT the same as the digital version of a print newspaper. Ex.: 'How staying indoors affects your immune system'. 
Fact sheets
Short documents that provide facts and key points about a topic in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand way.
Ex.: a fact sheet on childcare and childcare allowance on the Dutch government's website.
Produced by governments, (nonprofit) organizations, corporations, or think tanks on specific topics or issues. 
Ex.: World Alzheimer Report 2019.

(The ones NOT available through a formally published source such as a newspaper). 
Ex.: 'Myles Allen on understanding climate change'.

Social media
Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums). Social media content provides current information, but the quality of these sources varies greatly. 
May not be considered an acceptable resource (as it has very weak quality control). Use it if you want just an initial broad overview of a topic, but don’t refer to it in your paper.

These sources can be just as useful as its formal counterparts.

Here are a few examples:

Profession specific sites
There are many websites dedicated to every profession/trade. To make sure you find high-quality information, preferably choose websites of professional associations (organizations that represent the interests of a particular job field, such as the Dutch Association of Psychologists [NIP]). 
Ex.: American Psychological Association: 'Guidelines for Prevention in Psychology'.
Professional/trade blogs
Provide information about the latest developments within a profession or trade.
Ex.: Marc Chandlers's blog
Professional/trade podcasts
Ex.: 'The future starts now', available on the Forrester website.
Annual reports
Comprehensive reports on a company's or organization's activities throughout the preceding year.
Ex.: Shell's Annual report 2019.
Industry reports
These reports communicate information which has been compiled as a result of research and analysis of issues. They include recommendations that are useful for decision making.
Ex.:'Retailers: You're the next media moguls'
Industry blogs
Ex.: Manufacturing and QC blog.


Although generally not subjected to rigorous quality control, sources that fall into this category can be very useful.

Here are a few examples: 

Working papers
'Working' versions of scholarly journal articles, often released on dedicated websites so that other academics can comment on them before they are published.
Ex.: working paper available on the website of Harvard Business School.
Research reports
Documents that describe a research study from start to finish. A report may also be a precursor of research that is later published in a scholarly journal. 
Ex.: a research report published by IZA Institute of Labor Economics.
Conference papers 
Scholarly papers presented at a conference. Recent conference papers present the latest research and advancements in a particular field. 
Note that conference papers are also formally published in book form or in a journal. These papers have usually undergone peer review.
Ex.: conference paper available on the TU Delft website.
Academic blogs
These provide current information and have value as they extend the reach of scholarly ideas beyond the academic community.
Ex.: Scienceblogs: 'How to spot Coronavirus fake news'.
Academic podcasts
Ex.: 'Methodological innovation in digital arts and social sciences'.