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Research How: Information Literacy Toolbox: Sources of Information

Find tutorials on navigating the library website, resources for your research journey through searching, evaluating, & citing, and subject specific guides & databases

Instruct: Sources of Information


These are reference databases. In general, they are full-text and offer dictionary and encyclopedic articles on a variety of topics. This is a great place to start your research and get basic knowledge, keywords/vocabulary, history/background, and key figures related to your topic.

In these general databases, you will find articles from all disciplines. There are a variety of media types for most subjects and topics. If you are combining topics, this might be a great place to find interdisciplinary articles. Make sure to check "peer reviewed" if the option is available and your professor requires scholarly articles.

Use these databases to find information on contemporary and popular issues. They offer articles on current and controversial topics. Some will have expert pro/con papers from research leaders in their fields of study.

Are you looking for a current topic or one that is related to local information? Comprehensive news collections are ideal for exploring issues and events at the local, regional, national and international level; Its diverse source types include print and online-only newspapers, blogs, newswires, journals, broadcast transcripts and videos.


Steps for finding peer-reviewed articles in the library databases:

Go to the Library homepage

Click on the Research: Start box and scroll to "Multidisciplinary Databases"

Choose  Academic Search Complete, ProQuest, or Student Resources in Context

Once you are in the database, choose "Advanced Search"

There will be an option for Peer-Reviewed journals or publications; Click it and this will limit to peer-reviewed articles

Each database interface will look a little different but may include a way to limit your searches to peer-reviewed articles.

Step 1.

Visit the Library Homepage:

Step 2.

Add search terms to "Search for Anything..."

Step 3.

On the left, under "Availability", choose "Peer-reviewed Journals"

What is peer-reviewed?

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competencies as the producers of the work (peers). It functions as a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are used to maintain quality standards, improve performance, and provide credibility. In academia, scholarly peer review is often used to determine an academic paper's suitability for publication. Peer review can be categorized by the type of activity and by the field or profession in which the activity occurs, e.g., medical peer review.

-Definition from Wikipedia

Why should I know about peer-reviewed articles?

Learning to identify scholarly (often known as "peer-reviewed") and non-scholarly sources of information is an important skill to cultivate.  Many databases provide help with making this distinction; they will offer options when searching to identify peer-reviewed content. Ulrich's Directory of Publications is a database that can be searched to verify the publication type (scholarly, refereed, magazine, etc).

How do articles get peer-reviewed?

Peer-reviewed journals only publish articles that have been approved by a panel of experts/researchers/professionals in a field of study. Some research professors/assignments will require that you only use peer-reviewed sources.

Do you need to verify that a journal is peer-reviewed?

Additionally, Ulrich's Directory of Publications is a database that can be searched to verify the publication type (scholarly, refereed, magazine, etc).

Follow these steps:

  1. Start at the Library's homepage:
  2. Under "Find" on our homepage, click "A-Z List".
  3. Go to “U” in the A-Z list and select “Ulrich’s Web” from the list.
  4. Once you are in that resource you can do a search for your journal title and it will indicate whether your journal is peer-reviewed or not.


Primary Source Documents:

Someone who is the “first person” creates primary sources; these documents can also be called “original source documents.”  The author or creator is presenting original materials as a result of discovery or to share new information or opinions. Others have not filtered primary documents through interpretation or evaluation. In order to get a complete picture of an event or era, it is necessary to consult multiple—and often contradictory—sources  (i.e., letters, journals, interviews, speeches, photos, paintings, etc.).  Research studies written by the researchers who conducted the study are primary sources in the sciences.

Secondary Source Documents:

Materials that are produced with the benefit of hindsight and materials that filter primary sources through interpretation or evaluation. Books commenting on a historical incident in history are secondary sources. Political cartoons can be tricky because they can be considered either primary or secondary.  Articles, books, or other documents discussing research that was not conducted by the writer(s) are secondary sources in the sciences.

Chart by Grossmont College Library

OPVL is an effective tool to analyze primary and secondary source documents.


Origin is where the source comes from.

  • Who is the author/artist?
  • What date it was written/finished?
  • In which country the author/artist was born?
  • Where was the source was produced?
  • In, which format (newspaper, book, letter, etc.), was the source first presented?
  • Is the source a primary or secondary source?
  • What was the historic context in which the source was created?
  • Is there anything known about the author that is pertinent to the evaluation?


Purpose is where you have to put yourself in the author/artist's shoes. The purpose should relate to the origin of the source.

  • What do you think the author was trying to communicate to readers?
  • What ideas/feelings was the author trying to express/evoke? What was the intent of the author?
  • Why did the author create this document?  Why does it exist?
  • Who is the intended audience of this source?
  • The purpose is especially important when it comes to pieces of propaganda as sources.


Value is how valuable this source is. Basically it's linked to the amount of bias in the source:  the more bias = the less valuable (usually). Primary sources are obviously more valuable than secondary/tertiary ones.

  • What value does this source have that might not be available elsewhere?
  • What can one tell about the author/time period because of this source?
  • What was going on in history when this source was created? What new information does this piece bring to the understanding of the topic?


Limitations is also linked to bias, each source will be at least a little biased and thus they are limited by that. Do not state bias alone as a limitation. All sources have bias.

  • Has the source has been translated from the original? (i.e., Hitler's diary entry was  translated into English by a historian and you're using the historian's book as a source)  If so, then the language difference will be another source of inaccuracy and a limitation.
  • What information was not available to the author when the source was created?
  • Did the author get the information from a reliable source?
  • Does the author have reason to emphasize certain facts over other facts?  How might the source be different if it were presented to another audience?
  • What specific information might the author has chosen to leave out?
  • Does the author concede that a certain point as is inconvenient for the author to admit?
  • How might the historical context in which the document was created influence the interpretation of the document?