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FYS 1142 Basics of a Visual Language (Whitworth): Choosing the Right Resources

Choosing the Right Resources

Sometimes it's difficult to know which sources to choose for your research. Think critically about the various types of resources and decide which will be most useful or appropriate for your research. Here are some guidelines that may help:


Definition: Articles are essays or reports published a "periodical," i.e. something published on a periodic basis like a scholarly journal, newspaper, magazine, etc. Periodicals generally fall into three categories:

  • Popular  (Scientific American, National Geographic, New York Times)
    • Informational, aimed at the general public, written in plain language
    • Most articles do not have an identified author and/or are written by staff writers
    • Usually not peer-reviewed
    • Few if any footnotes or references
    • Usually for profit 
  • Scholarly (Current Biology, American Journal of Botany, Science)
    • Research-based, written for an audience with knowledge in the field
    • Written by scholars or experts in the field
    • Articles "peer-review" by other scholars or experts in the field
    • Usually lists sources and/or footnotes
    • Usually not for profit
  • Trade or Professional Journals (Drug Discovery & Development, Biotech Week, Nutrition & Food Science)
    • Written for members of a particular industry or trade
    • May look at industry trends or specific products
    • Written by staff writers or experts in a field, but not necessarily peer reviewed

Why Choose Articles?

  • Great sources for the most current or up-to-date information
  • Often contain brief overviews of topics
  • Sources for different aspects of a topic or specialized information
  • Material goes through a publishing process, so there is some accountability


Definition: Books can either be popular or scholarly, and they can contain either general information/overviews of a topic or comprehensive, in-depth studies.

Why Choose Books?

  • They might provide multiple viewpoints, particularly if each chapter is written by a different author (for example, an anthology of essays).
  • They are often the best place to look for a broad overview on a particular topic.
  • They are great sources of historical information and for topics that don't change much over time.
  • Reference books provide basic background information, facts, statistics, and other quick look-up information.
  • Material goes through publishing process, so there is some accountability.


Definition: Pages or collections of information on the internet. Cover a variety of topics and resources, including commercial sites, scholarly or academic institutions, special interests, opinion sites, organization sites, etc.

Why Choose Websites?

  • Good sources of current information
  • Convenient source of material, particularly from educational websites and/or organizations, like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), PBS, Library of Congress, United Nations, government agencies, etc.
  • Some information can be reliable, although it takes more work on the reader's part to determine when this is the case.
  • Provide information in a wide variety of formats, including sound, video, hyperlinked essays and documents, etc.

*Thank you to the University of St. Thomas, WSCU, Cornell, and University of Toronto for the information on this page.

Primary Vs. Secondary Vs. Tertiary Sources






Original research or materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a secondary party. Reports of scientific discoveries, experiments, or clinical trials. These are factual and not interpretive.

Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source. Analyzes and interprets research results or scientific discoveries.

Information which is distillation of primary AND secondary sources


Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article, technical reports, and diaries

Review articles, magazine articles, books, laws and legislation, public opinion, and social policy.



- Published results of research studies, clinical studies, or scientific experiments

- Proceedings of conferences or meetings


- Publications about the significance of research or experiments.

- Analysis of a clinical trial

- Review of the results of experiments or trials

Almanacs, bibliographies, chronologies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, fact books, guidebooks, manuals, and textbooks.

Specific Examples

- Einstein’s diary

- Article in a scholarly journal reporting research and methodology

- Books about Einstein’s life

- Articles or books analyzing and commenting on the results of original research

- Dictionary on the Theory of Relativity

- Bibliography of resources in a particular field

Peer Review in 3 Minutes

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