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COMM 260 Introduction to Communication Research Methods: Types of Information

Know Your Sources

Information comes in all shapes and sizes. Knowing what kind of information to use for your papers and speeches can be challenging, but we're here to help! Once you know the differences between the types of sources and how the information in them is created, you'll be much more confident deciding which ones to use! Portland Community College Library has an awesome resource called "Know Your Sources" that visually describes the various sources out there. Check it out by clicking this link: "Know Your Sources"

Primary Sources

Piles of abandoned historical papers


Primary sources provide an account of an event or person as close to the occurrence as possible. Primary sources often include:

  • Addresses, speeches, interviews
  • Art work
  • Audio or Video recordings (radio or television program)
  • Autobiographies
  • Correspondence, letters (e-mail)
  • Data sets
  • Documentaries (may also be Tertiary)
  • Minutes of meetings
  • Newspaper articles
  • Original legal documents (birth certicates, wills, etc.)
  • Web sites 

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are information sources which present a combination of both primary and secondary information. In most cases, tertiary sources include:

  • Bibliographies (may also be secondary)
  • Subject-specific dictionaries and encyclopedias (may also be primary or secondary)
  • Journal/magazine articles (may also be primary or secondary)
  • Textbooks (may also be secondary)

For more information on types of sources:

Secondary Sources



Secondary sources are those which provide application, commentary, evaluation, or interpretation of a primary source. Keep in mind that different disciplines may define primary, secondary, and tertiary sources differently. In most cases, secondary sources include:

  • Biographies
  • Bibliographies (may also be Tertiary)
  • Commentaries/Criticisms
  • Encyclopedias (may also be Tertiary)
  • Journal and magazine articles
  • Non-fiction monographs (books)
  • Web sites

Types of Periodicals (Journals/Magazines)

Periodicals, i.e., journals and magazines are typically categorized into three types:


  • Written by experts, researchers, scholars (credentials are included with the article)
  • Published by educational institutions, professional organizations
  • Articles are text-based, few to no graphics (except for graphs/charts)
  • Extensive references

Examples: Journal of Psychology & Christianity, Strength and Conditioning Journal


  • Written by professionals in a given field, for professionals in a given field (credentials may/may not be included)
  • Articles are application of, commentary on the research
  • Articles may or may not have been reviewed prior to publishling
  • Published by professional/trade organizations, or publishers known to publish subject-specific content
  • Articles may/may not include references are available
  • Publications include graphics, job openings, and product advertisements relative to profession/trade

Example: American Cinematographer; Nursing Management


  • Articles written by freelance writers (credentials usually not included)
  • Publications are glossy, attention-grabbing, filled with graphics and advertisements
  • Publications focus on a variety of interests according to sex, entertainment, hobbies, news, and other special interests
  • Examples: Bride; Fortune; Men's Fitness; Sunset, People