When it comes to writing assignments, it’s important that you use different sources of information to support your own ideas and arguments. Most sources fall into two categories – academic or popular.
Academic (or scholarly) sources include textbooks, journal articles and conference papers. They are written by experts in a particular field of study, with the aim of sharing original research or analyzing the findings of others. Aimed at fellow academics (or students such as yourselves), the language can be quite specialized and technical, so can take some getting used to. This material is normally subject to ‘peer review’ prior to publication, which means that the accuracy is verified by other experts. It should also provide full citations of its sources. All of this means that you can be confident when using it in your assignments.
Popular sources include magazine articles, blogs, tweets and websites such as Wikipedia. These are aimed at the general public, therefore they are normally more informal in tone and scope. Content may be written by journalists or other professional writers. However, as anybody can write a blog, set up a website or send a tweet, it is difficult to guarantee that these sources are accurate, reliable or up to date. When using these sources, it’s essential that you critically evaluate what you find, to decide whether it’s suitable to use in your work.
Although it’s best to use academic sources, popular sources can be useful for identifying ideas for a topic or when looking for background information. They may refer to changes in policy, key reports or new initiatives which you can investigate further.