ENGL 102: Research: Types of Sources

Guide for students and instructors of English 102 on how to use the library and find resources


Welcome to our discussion of the different types of sources we often use as researchers and writers. This page contains information exploring academic and nonacademic sources and primary and secondary sources as well as links to citation information, KU Libraries' "Ask a Librarian" instant messenger, and KU Libraries' locations and hours. This page also links to more information on academic and scholarly journal articles, general interest and popular magazine articles, newspapers, and web pages and Google search results. 

Popular and Academic Sources

As university researchers and writers, we rely heavily on academic sources. You may or may not have used some as evidence in high school research papers and projects. Academic sources are different than non-academic sources because they are written by experts writing in their field and are typically reviewed by other experts before they are published. This ensures they are both timely and accurate. Also, academic sources are written for readers already knowledgeable in the field, which means they contain subject-specific jargon and are narrowly focused, providing an in-depth discussion of a particular topic. Most of the time, your instructors will expect you to use academic sources in your writing unless otherwise noted.

Examples of academic sources include

  • Articles from academic and scholarly journals
  • Non-fiction books from a trusted publisher

Examples of non-academic sources include

  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries 
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Websites

Primary Sources

Primary sources are fictional and nonfictional documents or physical objects of an event created close to the time the event occurred

Primary sources can sources include

  • Novels, short stories, poems, plays, music
  • Paintings, sculpture, photographs,maps
  • Speeches (video, transcript, etc.)
  • Diaries, letters, journals
  • Interviews with witnesses and participants 
  • Government records

Examples of primary sources include

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, which documents the experiences of her Jewish family during WWII 
  • The Republic by Plato, which as a Socratic dialogue explores justice and gender roles in Ancient Greece
  • The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which outlines the laws and branches of government in post-apartheid South Africa
  • The Terra Cotta Army, which guards the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China

Information adapted from The Brief Penguin Handbook 

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources reflect on, provide analysis of, or draw conclusions about topics based on primary sources. 

Secondary sources can include

  • Histories, biographies, literary criticism, reviews  

Examples of secondary sources include

  • A Roger Ebert review of Casablanca 
  • A nonfiction book from KU Libraries' catalog examining the legacies of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
  • An encyclopedia entry detailing the Civil Rights Movement 

Information adapted from The Brief Penguin Handbook 

Citing Sources

Click on these links for writing help and for information on citing sources.

Research Help

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