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Evaluating Sources

Source Types

Sources are often categorized as "popular" or "scholarly" but there are other types of sources that may fall somewhere in-between.

These charts show you how we often can identify and analyze types of periodicals (magazines or journals) and academic books.  Many of these factors apply also to sources on the free web but some specific tips for evaluating websites are also provided. 

Also, check out our new video for another overview of types of sources:


Periodicals (Magazines and Journals)

  Popular News                     Commentary or Analysis              Industry ("Trade"), Professional Scholarly



Time Magazine Cover - Title in white lettering under a silhouetted image of a woman against a grey background framed in red.


Sports Illustrated

New York Times

Grand Rapids Press

The Atlantic Magazine Cover - Title in white and black lettering against a red background with a picture of two cloaked and masked figures.

Atlantic Monthly

New Yorker


Science Teacher

Pizza Today

PC Magazine

Journal Cover - Title in white lettering against a light blue background with a dark blue vertical stripe on the left side.

Journal of Educational Research

Plasma Physics

Social Psychology Quarterly

Value & Uses

Current events; Hot topics; 
Primary source for analysis of popular culture; Short articles; Generally not much depth; Interviews

Current information; Hard news; Local and regional information; Classified ads; Editorials; Speeches; Book reviews; Primary source for information on events Commentaries on social & political issues; Some  in-depth analysis; Political viewpoints, liberal, conservative & other; Sometimes acts as voice of activist organization; Speeches & interviews; Book reviews

Current trends, news & products in a field; Company, organization, & biographical information; Statistics, forecasts; Employment & career information;

Book and product reviews

Reports of original research;

In depth analysis of issues related to the discipline; Academic level book reviews; Often refereed or peer-reviewed
Language Non-technical language Written for a general educated audience Written for a general educated audience Written for practitioners; Can use jargon extensively Academic; Can be very technical; Uses the language of the discipline
Authors Generally, journalists and freelance writers Journalists Extremely variable; Can be academics, journalists, representatives of various “groups Practitioners in the field or journalists with subject expertise Researchers, academics, professors, scholars, etc.
Sources Rarely cite any sources Rarely cite any sources in full Occasionally cite sources in text or  provide short  bibliographies Occasional brief bibliographies; Sources sometimes cited in text Footnotes and bibliographies, Often very extensive documentation
Publisher Commercial publishers Commercial publishers Commercial publishers  or non-profit organizations Commercial publishers or professional and trade associations Universities, scholarly presses or academic/research organizations
Graphics* Very glossy; Full of color ads of all sorts Pictures, charts, ads of all sorts Wide variety of appearances; Some very plain, others lots of gloss Photographs, charts, tables, illustrations of all sorts; Sometimes glossy ads Graphs, charts, formulas, depending on the discipline; No glossy ads here at all

Source: Designs for Active Learning (Gradowski, 1998) - adapted

*Note that in the online versions of these periodicals (on the web or in our library databases), you may not see these same graphical elements or clues.

If you want to investigate further a specific periodical title, you might check these resources:

Academic Books

Books can be categorized along similar types as magazines and journals.  In particular, these types of books are worth considering for your research:

  Popular Non-Fiction Scholarly
Examples Book Cover - Title in white lettering over a black-and-white photograph of a woman over a bright orange and yellow abstract background. Book Cover - Title in black lettering in a cream box underneath a line of cream stick figures against a black background. The middle stick figure is yellow and has two cream bolts of lighting aimed towards them. Book Cover - Title in black lettering over two beige boxes against a partial map in the background.Book Cover - Title in white lettering against a black background over a portrait of an 18th century man.
Value & Uses Might discuss more current issues; not considered scholarly but still can be substantive Might address a very specific subject in a lot of depth; considered more authoritative
Authors Could be academics, journalists, or freelance writers Academics, researchers, or other scholars, often associated with a college or university
Publisher Commercial publishers such as Harper Collins, Basic, Crown University presses; Commercial academic presses such as Sage, Jossey-Bass, or Springer