Brianna Buljung

This chapter will help you:

  • Determine when you might need resources beyond scholarly articles

  • Identify different sources and the role they can play in research

  • Describe the role that authority plays in academic research


The last chapter explored how to begin searching for and evaluating information for your project. It investigated basic research preparation and how to begin finding resources that meet your information needs. This chapter will look beyond scholarly articles to the other types of sources you might need to include in your research.

Some research projects will rely exclusively on scholarly articles from disciplinary databases and/or Google Scholar. However, for most projects you will also need information from other types of sources. These sources could include protocols, code, regulations, standards, primary sources, technical reports, data sets, maps and more. They can be used to complement the information and methods found in scholarly articles. These additional types of resources are especially valuable in interdisciplinary research or in instances when your project is directly applicable to stakeholders.

This chapter will consider special types of sources and how to go about finding them. It will describe the role that different types of sources can play in a project, ways to find them, and how to ensure you are using authoritative sources. Relevance to your project and source authority are two of the most important considerations when searching for and evaluating materials. You will also have the opportunity to reflect on your research project and what types of sources might be useful.

Why Might I Need Other Types of Sources?

You will not need all the different types of sources discussed in this chapter in any given project or discipline. However, it can be helpful to know about the different kinds of information available as well as different ways to go about acquiring it. Early in a research project, it is acceptable (and even encouraged) to search broadly and save more sources than you think you might need. Chapter 4 will describe how to go about managing and organizing those found sources. Early in a project it can also be helpful to keep an open mind about sources, you might discover methodologies or approaches that you had not previously considered. However, always stay focused on your overarching topic and be mindful of how found sources might contribute to the project.

Beyond the general sources discussed in chapter 2, there are specialized sources that will typically only be applicable to a select set of disciplines. Specialty sources in the humanities and social sciences can include financial data and reports, surveys, interviews, mixed methods studies, primary sources, policy papers (sometimes called white papers) and even social media posts. Broadly speaking, these sources can provide data for analysis and often provide perspective on human experience in a given situation. Some of these sources are formally published by reputable entities, but are not typically found in disciplinary databases. Financial reports, industry analysis, policy papers, public opinion polls and some interdisciplinary projects may be found only on that entity’s website. Become comfortable with the organizations related to your field that produce these sources, such as think tanks, government agencies, polling entities, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and advocacy groups.

Other types of specialized social sciences and humanities sources are less formally published and may be difficult to acquire. Primary sources, interviews, videos and social media content may not be formally collected or organized by a specific entity. They can also be more ephemeral than more formal sources, making them difficult to find long after a specific event. When seeking these types of sources, ask yourself who would be most invested in sharing or preserving this type of information. This will help guide your search to specific historical societies, libraries, museums, advocacy groups, and other entities that work with those sources. For example, in the United States documents from recent presidential administrations are held and preserved by that president’s library. As another example, historical societies may have content related to events that contain local aspects, such as geological events or social movements. Researchers in the humanities and social sciences seeking specialty sources need to carefully consider the source’s authority. Social media, websites and informally published policy papers can have a role in research when relevant to the research question and used with careful consideration.

Specialized sources for STEM disciplines tend to be formally published by authoritative entities. It is important for researchers to consider the timeliness of the information to ensure they have the most up-to-date and accurate source possible. Use of outdated standards or protocols can be dangerous. It is also important to note that these sources may be held by producing entities behind paywalls, be protected by government classification of secret information and/or be unavailable to certain researchers due to export control laws.

Specialized sources across STEM disciplines can include: protocols, standards and specifications,technical reports, computer code, software, maps and geographic information systems (GIS) data, physical samples, specimens and patents. As with some of the humanities and social sciences sources, knowing which entities might produce those sources will help to narrow your search. For example, you might need a standard produced by a large organization that has standards across several disciplines, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Alternatively, perhaps one from a more specialized organization, such as the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), will be more appropriate for your project. Government entities, industry organizations, non-governmental organizations, research groups,or even companies may produce the information sources you need.

How to Find Different Types of Sources

Now that you have a better understanding of the types of sources that might be useful to a project, here are some strategies for accessing that information. When novice researchers need specialized sources beyond books or scholarly articles, most will go directly to their favorite search engine. However, the results can often be too vague or overwhelming to be of use.

You can use internet search engines like Google to find openly available scholarly sources. In many search engines, limiting a search to a specific domain, such as .edu, will focus the results on sources from specific types of websites. Using a domain limiter can help you to focus on higher quality sources from authoritative sources. Specifically, using the country limiter can be a powerful way to access local perspectives, laws and news sources. The following table contains a list of different types of limiters and examples of the types of sources that each contain.

Examples of web search limiters and typical results






Scholarly articles

Research groups

Technical innovations


.gov (sometimes .go)



Agency reports

Data portals



Industry groups

Think tanks (some are .edu)


Advocacy groups


.tw (example)

Limits search to websites from a specific country



Technical reports



Technical innovations

Using the Taiwan water storage research as an example, you can find academic papers on the topic by searching water storage Taiwan site:.edu.

Google search for water storage Taiwan site:.edu
Example Google Search limiting to academic sources

This search trick can also be used to find information from other countries and specific websites. For example, you might want to find a recent article from The Times (London). You can add site:.thetimes.co.uk to your search to find the article on Google. Using the domain limiter with other countries’ domains, such as .uk or .tw, can help you to find policy, news and other websites from a specific country. For example, if you are looking for government policy on water storage from Taiwan, you can use .gov.tw as a limiter.

Google search for water storage policy Taiwan site:.gov.tw
Example search for sources from the Taiwanese government

One method for using domain searching is to consider your search a math problem. Essentially, you are combining your topic, the kind of source you want, and the domain you want it from to get a well-structured, targeted search. For example, you might need sources on renewable energy usage in Canada. Your search could look like this: renewable energy usage statistics site:.gov.ca. This search will return statistics sites and reports from Canadian government agencies. Treating your search like a math formula can help you to adjust the terms used throughout your searching to get to the exact type of sources needed.

topic + source + domain method for creating a targeted search
Treat your search like a math formula to create a focused search

While search engines are very powerful and can rapidly produce results, these sources are not always complete or free. Some types of information are best found in databases or specialized search interfaces. Standards are a common example of this issue, unless produced by a government entity, they are often behind a paywall or in a subscription database. It can be very easy to find information about the theses and dissertations produced at a particular university, but sometimes the full text is unavailable for download. This is especially true for older theses that may not have been digitized. Industry analysis and market forecasting are also areas in which information available on Google can be limited. When you encounter a need for these types of resources, always check with your local or institutional library to see if they can be acquired for you before paying for access.

As you are finding sources on the internet, you may encounter papers, presentations and other items hosted on institutional repositories. Many of the results on a .edu limited search will be from this type of collection. Increasingly, universities and other research entities are using publicly available repositories to share research, archival materials and other types of sources from their institution. Sources found on repositories can be valuable to your research. Often, this is the most reliable place to find research reports from groups at the university as well as theses and dissertations. It can also be a way to use archival collections without having to travel to that institution.

However, it is important to note that the papers found in these collections may not be in their final state. Many of the scholarly articles hosted in repositories are the pre-print copy of the article. This is typically the copy submitted to a journal for formal peer-review. Other journals allow authors to share their accepted manuscript, a copy that has been reviewed but not formally typeset by the journal. For example, this list from Elseiver describes how they define each version of the article and detail how each can be shared. Posting an item in the repository may also be subject to a period of embargo, in which the official journal article is the only copy available. Using the repository copy can be a great way to access articles that your institution may not subscribe to or that may be unavailable in its final state. However, be sure that you are aware which version of the article you are using and be aware that changes may have been made to the article before final publication.

More on the Role of Authority in Research

Most early career researchers can confidently identify a scholarly, peer reviewed journal article, but evaluation becomes more difficult for specialized and informally published materials. The evaluation questions you asked yourself in Chapter 2 still apply, but you will focus most of your evaluation efforts on the authority of the source and how relevant it is for your specific project. Authority is highly contextual and can vary based on project topics and information needs. For example, an interview with an industry expert may be suitable for a project about industry innovations, but unsuitable for a study on a particular methodology. In another example, consider Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a highly regarded American astrophysicist. Although he is very authoritative in his discipline, he is not an expert on early childhood education, petroleum engineering or sociology. Just because a source is good, does not necessarily make it appropriate for your specific project.

At times, you may need to use public websites in your research. These types of sources may require extra evaluation to ensure that they are suitable and authoritative enough for your work. Use sources from reputable organizations; you establish credibility for your own work by using materials from reliable sources. Does the research from this source appear thorough? Do they cite their sources and/or describe their methodology? You’ll typically want to avoid sources that are trying to sell you something, that have extreme opinions or that use profanities and obscenities. Many organizations do in depth research or provide data sets that you can use, including government agencies, think tanks and NGOs.

News sources may also need extra evaluation. Typically, you will want to use long form or more in depth news stories. Most researchers will want to avoid press releases, short Associated Press news stories, blogs and wikis. Timeliness is also an important issue to consider with news. Most stories are published in the moment, as the news is unfolding, especially in the era of internet news and social media. Return to your project topic and determine the purpose the news will serve in your work. Are you interested in news as a primary source for a specific event? In this case, stories published in the midst of an event are appropriate. Or, are you using it as more of a summative resource? In this case, you will want stories that present a more distanced view of the entire situation. Ensure that the stories you use match the purpose you intend to use them for.

Understanding the news organization’s biases is essential to accurately evaluating and using news stories. Publishers can span the spectrum from highly liberal to highly conservative. They also may be owned by individuals or entities with significant oversight and editorial power. Do a little research into the organization so that you understand how editorial views may impact news from that source. The graphic below depicts many English-language news sources along the political spectrum. You will typically want to focus on mainstream sources and avoid the fringes. In many countries, at least some news organizations are owned and operated by the government. If you are using news from another country, take the time to understand how the news media operates in that country as well as how much freedom is allowed to the press.

Mainstream English-language news sources on a partisan spectrum
Spectrum of News Sources from UC Merced Library

Tips for Effectively Finding Different Sources

In addition to the basic concepts of research discussed in the last chapter, remember:

  • Reflect on your progress throughout the search process. Taking time to consider your information needs can save you time and frustration as you are searching.
  • When you are searching for sources beyond scholarly articles, consider who produces the information and where it might be stored.
  • Let your found sources lead you to other potentially valuable information. Get into the habit of checking citations to follow the conversation backward as well as using “cited by” tools to follow the conversation forward in time.
  • It is important for the sources you use to meet the needs of the specific project, a source can be highly scholarly and/or highly authoritative but still not meet your needs.


Now that you have a more in depth understanding of other types of sources you might want to use, consider the following in relation to a project or topic of your choosing:

  1. Brainstorm the types of sources that you will want to consult beyond scholarly articles. These could include newspapers, technical reports, standards, data sets, policy, regulation, patents, and more.
  2. Put your search strategies into practice using a specific collection or a well-composed Google search. Consider:
    1. Are these terms and strategies returning the types of information I need?

    2. If not, how can I revise my search to get closer to what I need?

  3. Take at least one of the items that you have found and practice evaluating. Consider how scholarly and/or authoritative it is, how reliable the information is, and most importantly, how it fits into your research.


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Navigating the Research Lifecycle for the Modern Researcher Copyright © 2024 (2nd Edition) by Brianna Buljung is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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