What Source Type Should I Choose?


Technology has changed the way students and teachers alike conduct research. With so many ways to digest information, it can be difficult to decide what category a source fits into. For instance, if you access a magazine article on a website, do you cite the source as a magazine article, or as a website? What about a photograph of a sculpture? Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind when you are struggling to determine the proper format for your source:

1. If you get stuck on how to cite your source, always keep in mind what the source actually is. It is almost always better to cite a source by following its original form.

For example, you have an online magazine article. How do you cite it?

If you have a magazine article that you found online and can’t decide how to cite it, it is better to cite it as a magazine article, as that type of citation will always provide the reader of a clear understanding of where you conducted your research and found your information.

2. You should also consider citing the container of the source (see MLA format). A citation for an online magazine article, for instance, could contain information on both the magazine article and the website that reprinted it. See your citation style manual for more information on this topic.

If you still can’t tell what type of source you are dealing with, see the following info.

If you have a hard copy of your source:

If you can hold a copy of your source in your hands, such as a book, you should cite the source according to that source type’s rules. If, however, you have a printout of a section of a larger source, remember the following hints:

  • Look at the bottom of the page for a full or partial URL.  If you see one, use that to track down the original source.
  • If no URL is present, find an important sentence and copy it into a Google search. The search should let you know what type of source your material is.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between journal articles and book chapters when you only have a printout. To tell the difference:
    • Journal articles usually include a lot of information on the first page. Look for full citation information, contact information for the author(s), or information about when the article was submitted, revised and accepted.
    • Journal articles will (sometimes) provide more information on interior pages, such as the author’s last name or an abbreviated article title or journal title.
    • Book chapters usually include only the author’s name and chapter title on the first page of the chapter.

If you found your source in a database:

Most databases and research tools will identify the proper source type for your piece of material. You just need to know where to look. Two things to keep in mind:

  • The databases rely on information from the publishers to identify the source type. This information is not always accurate.
  • There is no consistent vocabulary used to describe source types. Look for keywords like “print” or “article.”

If you found your source on a website:

These days, most traditional print sources, such as newspapers, also have a website. Those websites can replicate print content or provide unique, web-only content. Therefore, it can be difficult to differentiate between original and reprinted writing. For example, is a blog post on a newspaper’s website a blog post, or is it a newspaper article?

  • First, look to see if you can find an “about us” page on the website. This could hold a lot of valuable information about the publisher, which could lead to more clarification on what the source is. For example, if the about us page shows that the publisher is a news agency, then you know you’re dealing with a source related to newspapers.
  • You can also try going to the site’s homepage. This should give you more valuable information about the publisher.
  • Type the organization’s name into a Google or Wikipedia source. The history of the organization or publisher should let you know what kind of works they typically publish.
  • Still confused? Your librarian should be able to answer any question you may have regarding citing sources.

    Need APA citations? Or a Works Cited page in MLA, Chicago, or another citation style? Go to BibMe to generate citations quickly!

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