Types of Sources for a Research Paper

There are two types of research that can be incorporated into a paper: primary and secondary. Most students rely heavily on secondary research, which involves looking at other people’s thoughts on a subject, either in books or on the Web. Primary research involves collecting data yourself, through personal interviews, observations or surveys. Knowing about the different types of research you can use helps you determine what type will make your research paper stronger.


Because the Internet is the most accessible avenue for information, it is the place most students start. However, all online sources are not created equal. There are several ways to determine the credibility of your Internet sources. Look at the credentials for the author of the piece. Are they applicable to the topic of the article? Does the Internet address end in “.edu” or “.gov”? These are signs of a reliable resource. When was the article written? Some subjects need timely information to be relevant. If in doubt about your ability to find the best online sources, you should ask your instructor for website recommendations.


Print sources are the most traditional form of research paper sources. Books, journals, newspapers, magazines and textbooks are all print resources that typically are found in libraries and bookstores. Today, many sources that were once in print only can also be found on the Internet. However, that is not true for everything, so print sources are still valuable forms of research. Ask a librarian for help if you are having trouble finding print sources that apply to your topic.


If you are writing about a topic that directly affects people in your community, including interviews in your research paper will add credibility and immediacy to your argument. For example, if you are assigned a paper on how college tuition is scheduled to increase in your state, you can interview college students to learn the ways this increase will affect them. When conducting an interview, you should prepare questions before you arrive and, if possible, record the interview so that you can correctly transcribe the quotes. In addition, never arrive late to an interview and send a note afterward thanking the subject for taking the time to speak with you.

Surveys and Questionnaires

Surveys and questionnaires are often the most difficult or time-consuming type of primary research because you are required to create a set of questions that can be answered briefly and then administer them to a group of people. Once the research has been completed, you must look at the data and draw conclusions about the results.


This type of research calls on the essay writer to observe and document a specific phenomenon. For example, if you are writing about how many advertisements run during a half hour of children’s television programming, you would spend a few days watching TV shows aimed at younger viewers and count how many commercials you see.

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