Choosing Sources - Research Tools - McDonogh School

Choosing Sources

When choosing sources for your research consider the format, currency, and credibility of the information, and bias (your own and the source's). Also consider whether you need primary and/or secondary sources.

Types of Sources


Books are available from the US library for four weeks, longer if needed.


Databases are curated, authoritative collections that include articles and information from scholarly and trade journals, magazines, and newspapers.

  • Students may access US Digital Resources (databases) on or off campus. 
  • Use your local public library card to access other databases for free. 
  • Web sources and other media (blogs, interviews, videos, presentations and more) can be used for research. Be open to using all kinds of credible sources. 

When using digital resources, know that they are dynamic; they change. Students should keep digital or paper copies of their resources and note the date accessed, as content may change.


Digital resources are dynamic. Look for when the resource was produced and/or last updated. A recent date does not necessarily equate to current information. Check the copyright date of books and articles to be sure you have current information if your topic demands it.


What's the site's purpose; to inform, to entertain, to persuade? Who's the intended audience? Does the source seem free of opinion? Is more than one point of view presented? Sometimes a clearly opinionated source is exactly what you need (e.g. persuasive arguments such as Oratory); for research papers, look for unbiased content that reports information without editorializing.

Who is the author? What qualifies the author as informed, knowledgeable, and reliable regarding a specific topic? What are the author's organizational affiliations? Use an About or similar tab to find credentials and biographical information, or search their name online. Peer-reviewed articles and studies have an innate, additional level of authority.

What organization, institution, or company is responsible for the content and/or funding? Use the About tab or an author's bio to find out. Credible and reliable sponsoring organizations are often associated with a university, trade association, think tank, or major company. Confirm that content you use from a .edu site is the work of university faculty, not an individual student's work.


Use bibliographies, citations, and notes in articles and books to find additional sources.