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More about Relevance

Things to consider:

Is the format or medium of the information useful for your assignment?

Information is available in many different formats. Before selecting a source, consider whether it is in the most useful format for your needs? Be sure to review the requirements of your assignment. In some instances, your assignment may specifically require you use sources of a particular format. For example: 



book stack


Other Formats


Is the information comprehensive enough for your needs?

When considering a source, also think about how in-depth or comprehensive you need the information to be. For example, sources such as general encyclopedias provide only a summary or brief background information on a topic. These sources are useful for quick reference needs, short assignments, or to give you an overview of your topic.

For assignments that require more depth and detail, you will need to use more comprehensive sources that take a deeper dive into your topic such as books or articles from journals or magazines.

Is the information a primary or secondary source?

Some assignments require the use of primary sources. Primary sources provide direct, first-hand accounts of your research topic. These include diaries, letters or emails, manuscripts, official documents, and firsthand reports of events. 

secondary source  summarizes, analyzes, interprets or reports on primary source information. 

Here are some specific examples:

  • The president gives a speech:
    • Primary source: The complete speech on video, audio, or text.
    • Secondary source: A book or magazine or newspaper or television or Internet source that quotes portions of the speech, or a political analyst who comments on the speech using quotations from it.
  • The 9/11 Commission issues a report:
    • Primary source: The full report as produced by the 9/11 Commission.
    • Secondary source: Articles or features about the report in books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, television, etc.
  • A scientific study is conducted:
    • Primary source: Journal article written by those conducting the study on the nature and results of the study.
    • Secondary source: Reports about the study in the newspapers, magazines, and other sources.
  • Slave narratives in the United States:
    • Primary source: Original diaries, recorded interviews of the former slaves.
    • Secondary source: Excerpts, analysis, interpretation of the original source by others in books, magazines, on the Internet, etc.

Does the information express a bias, preferring a particular point of view, or is the information balanced, providing all points of view?


cover image of Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology





Some documents attempt to provide fact-based, objective (not opinionated) information representing a variety of points-of-view
Cover image for book, The War on Guns by John Lott Jr


 Other sources may represent a biased point-of-view, focusing on one perspective to the exclusion of others or providing subjective, personal views. 

Is the information directed toward a general or a specialized audience?

Cover of the book Diabetes for Dummies Popular Sources are directed at a general, non-expert audience, and the information is presented in a more informal, less technical manner. 
Cover of Journal of Applied Physiology


Scholarly/Professional/Trade Sources are directed at a specialized audience with expertise or professional interest in the subject matter. The information is presented in a more formal and technical manner that may be challenging for a general reader to understand. 



Chapter 7 — Page 4