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WAMS Research Guide: Selecting Sources

Tutorials and links to help you navigate the research process successfully.

Useful Resources

Credible Sources Count!

Fun, online activity from Acadia University that shows why you must evaluate web pages before using them for research.

What Have You Learned?

Information Seeking Strategies

The information sources you use will depend upon your thesis or focus, the essential questions you want to answer, and the requirements of your research project.

Your teacher or media specialist may provide you with a Research Checklist or Pathfinder of useful sources for a particular project.  Using these checklists will help you keep track of the sources that you use.

Ask yourself these questions to determine the types of information sources most useful for your research:

  • Which sources will provide answers to your questions quickly and easily (It's not always the Internet!!)

  • Which sources will provide reliable information?

  • Do I need the most current information on my topic?

  • What is the purpose of my research project?  Is it to Inform?  Persuade? Entertain? Describe a Process?



You should always use a variety of sources in any research so that you get the best, most complete and current information and can validate information across different sources. These include:

  • Print Nonfiction - Books containing facts, reviews or analysis
  • Reference sources - Almanacs, atlases, dictionaries, encyclopedias
  • Online Databases - Newspaper articles, magazine articles, reference articles, transcripts, images, etc.
  • eBooks  - online versions of nonfiction or reference books
  • Web sites - online pages of information on any topic
  • Personal interviews with experts
  • Print Periodicals - magazines, journals, and newspapers.


The information sources you use will depend upon your thesis or focus, the essential questions you want to answer, and the requirements of your research project.

Your teacher or media specialist may provide you with a Research Checklist or Pathfinder of useful sources for a particular project.  Using these checklists will help you keep track of the sources that you use.

Primary VS Secondary Sources


Primary sources, containing firsthand knowledge, observation or information are created when an event is currently happening.  Examples of primary sources include:

  •  Novels, poems, artwork, films, songs

  • Diaries, personal journals, autobiographies, letters, emails

  • Pictures, maps, sketches, drawings

  • Interview transcripts, newspaper articles (most of the time)


Secondary sources are written after an event has occurred, sometimes many years later.  These sources summarize or analyze the information from primary sources.  Secondary source examples include:

  • Biographies, articles based on an interview

  • Textbooks, reference books, nonfiction books

  • Magazine articles (usually)

Brainstorming Possible Sources of Information


Think about the types of information you need to find on your topic.


  • General information - choose nonfiction books, reference books/encyclopedias or reference/encyclopedia databases or web pages.

  • Current Facts and Statistics - Choose magazine or newspaper or almanac articles (print or from databases),  current pamphlets (from Vertical Files) or web pages

  • Historical information- choose nonfiction books, reference books, encyclopedias, reference/encyclopedia databases or web pages.

  • Opinions - choose magazine and newspaper articles (print or from databases) or web pages.

  • Maps, Images, Charts - Choose web pages, almanacs/reference books (print or from databases)

  • Breaking News - Choose magazine or newspapers (from databases) or news web pages.

  • Broadcast information - Choose television or radio programs or streaming video from web pages.

Guidelines for How Much Information You Will Need

 How much information do you need?

How much information you need depends on why you are gathering the information and what you plan to do with it.

If you are writing a research paper, you want to make sure you have enough detailed information to effectively write about your topic.  While there are no hard and fast rules, your teacher will provide some requirements/guidelines to help you  in  deciding if you have gathered enough information.

If you need to write a 2-3 page paper, figure you need approximately 10 pages of quality notes.

Reliability of Sources

Sources of information are not always reliable.  Web pages in particular can be created by anyone. How can you identify a RELIABLE SOURCE of information?

You must evaluate the source by asking yourself several questions about the source:

  • Who is the author or sponsoring organization?
  • Is the author or organization knowledgeable or an expert in your topic?
  • Can you contact the author or organization online or via snail mail?
  • Is the information factual?
  • Is the information credible (believable?)
  • Is the information an opinion?
  • Is the information fair and objective, showing both sides of an issue?
  • Is the information current or up to date?  Does it matter for your research?
  • Is the information well organized and easy to understand?
  • Is the information free from spelling or grammatical errors?
  • If it's a web page, is it from a credible website?

Once you have identified the best and most reliable sources of information, you must locate these sources and access the information you need within these sources.