CORE 112: Types of Sources

Different Sources

Aside from primary sources (novels, films, etc.), other types of sources you can find in library databases each offer a different perspective on the scholarly conversation. It's helpful to search in more than one database, or across databases using the Libraries' main search, because each offers a different set of resources and search functions.

  • Theoretical / Introductory reference works can help you take a big-picture look at movements, themes, theories, and other background information related to the text you're writing about. This background information can lead to keywords, ideas, and connections you might not have discovered otherwise.  For example: if you're interested in writing about Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy you could look for introductory information on Westerns, war novels, other McCarthy novels, or nihilism.
  • A Critical Analysis makes an argument and apply one or more critical theories to a text. Example: A literary criticism of a specific work
  • A Research Study focuses on relationships or effects between ideas. Example: a study of the effects of gender bias in advertising media, an ethnographic study of a city, or a psychological study of adolescent sexual behavior


Reading Strategies

Locating Sources

When looking for criticism, use advanced search features, to search by the work or author. Databases will often link articles on a particular work together. Fewer keywords are more when looking for criticism, try and think of the types of analysis or perspectives you would like to find for example: Modernism, Marxist, Queer Theory, Feminist, Race Theory, etc.

In MLA International Bibliography, for example, you can find these links at the bottom of the page:

Research studies and other journal articles that report on original research can be found by using keywords that describe the relationship you want more information about. For example if you are interested in the benefits and harms of gentrification you might try searching "Gentrification AND Displacement" as a specific harm of gentrification. Journal articles are narrow in focus and will not typically provide an overview on a topic.

Theoretical and introductory works provide broad overviews and definitions on movements, themes, theories, and other topics. To find these materials try searching broad singular terms.

Use the resources cited to get more specific, find other sources, and understand the general themes in a topic.

Activity: Searching Spreadsheet

Using the Searching Spreadsheet template:

  1. Make a copy of the searching spreadsheet template.
  2. Introduce basic searching skills including how to find the full text of documents.
  3. Provide the link to students for the spreadsheet.
  4. Students complete the activity with guidance and help on their individual topics.
  5. Come back together as a class and discuss what students found.


Modification: Use the same questions in a Google Form and have students complete the activity as a homework assignment.

Possible discussion questions:

  • How do these sources talk to each other?
  • What further perspectives do they refer to?
  • How can we tell if the sources we find are central to the scholarly conversation?

Information Literacy Outcomes

  • Identify the contribution that particular information sources make within an ongoing conversation
  • Describe the way that systems privilege some perspectives and present barriers to others