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Source Types

This guide shows students the definitions of the types of print and online materials they will find using the library's search Summon. This guide will also help students understand what their professors are requiring of them.

Common Source Types: terms & definitions

Use this list to learn more about some of the most common types of sources that your professors might require you to find for your research projects.


A research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences.
An experiment or observation done in clinical research. Learn more about clinical trials, such as how to identify this research, at https://hslguides.osu.edu/clinical_trials
A written document that outlines an oral presentation given at a conference. These sources may be indexed on the conference website, and some conference organizations publish their proceedings as special scholarly journal issues. Additionally, conference paper authors may also upload their research to open access repositories. For additional information, see Proceedings, below.
This is a collection of raw statistics and information generated by a research study. Datasets produced by government agencies or non-profit organizations can usually be downloaded free of charge. However, datasets developed by for-profit companies may be available for a fee.
A manuscript submitted in support of a post-graduate candidate for an academic degree, or a professional candidate seeking qualification, presenting that author's research and findings.
These documents are simply publications issued by government agencies. They include local, state, and federal publications. There is an official program through which federal documents are shared with the public called the Federal Depository Library Program, and Marshall University is a depository location. These documents are published at the government's expense, or as required by law.
A structured conversation where one participant asks questions, and the other provides answers. These can take place in person, via telephone or other conference methods, and can be recorded or transcribed.
A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic, and discusses those sources in conversation with each other.
A research process used to systematically synthesize or merge findings of multiple independent scientific studies.
This type of article is a scholarly aka academic article which, prior to publication, was reviewed by subject experts, the author's peers, to evaluate the validity, accuracy, and overall quality of the article.
Sources which contain articles written for a general audience to provide information or entertainment. Examples include Time Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic
Published literature of conferences, symposia, seminars, colloquia, workshops, and conventions in a wide range of disciplines. Generally published in a book of conference proceedings. Some conference papers may be published in the conference proceedings, but not always. For more information, see Conference Papers, above.
Research expressed in words. It is used to understand concepts, thoughts or experiences. This type of research enables you to gather in-depth insights on topics that are not well understood. This type of research includes interviews with open-ended questions; observations described in words; and, literature reviews that explore concepts and theories.
Research expressed in numbers and graphs. It is used to test or confirm theories and assumptions. This type of research can be used to establish generalizable facts about a topic. This type of research includes experiments; observations recorded as numbers; and, surveys with closed-ended questions.
Materials which provide an overview of a subject, or quick specific facts about a subject. Examples include dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, handbooks, atlases, and bibliographies.
Sometimes referred to as academic sources, these contain articles written by scholars or experts in a field of study that present results or original research. Examples include Journal of Applied Psychology, Child Development, and American Historical Review. One type of scholarly article is peer reviewed (see peer reviewed articles, above)
Articles which aim to summarize the evolution of a theory, concept, or technique from inception to the current state of it. These sources focuse on collecting and presenting technical information, often to describe the history of discoveries about a given topic. A survey can also refer to an investigation of the opinions or experiences of a group of people, based on a series of questions.
This is a document written by a researcher detailing the results of a project and submitted to the sponsor of that project. These are not peer-reviewed unless they are subsequently published in a peer-review journal.
Sometimes called professional journals, these contain articles written by professionals to provide practical information and to promote education and skills within a particular trade or industry. Examples include Chronicle of Higher Education, Computer World, and Advertising Age.