How can I tell the nature of my source in order to cite it?


Where to begin?!

Sometimes just having a few citation examples from a style handbook isn't enough to help us understand what kind of academic information we have on our hands, or how to cite it properly.  

In order to correctly reference material, you first need to identify the type of source: is it a book, a journal, or something else?

Here are the distinguishing characteristics of some of most common source types.


Books are printed and bound documents on a particular topic or set of topics. Most books are written by either one person or a small group of people, but there are exceptions to this: edited books, conference proceedings, encyclopedias, and dictionaries.


Journals are periodically published collections of articles on a particular subject, similar to a magazine or newspaper. However, the target audience of a journal is usually academic, professional, or technical. Journals represent the cutting edge of research in a field: pioneering studies and analyses are published here first.

  • Journals differ from magazines in a number of ways:
  • When writing an assignment, journal articles are more likely to be comprehensive and useful than general magazine articles. 
  • Many academic journals are available online, either directly or through the library's article databases.
  • Journal articles are referenced individually. 

Grey literature and other material

Sometimes sources have not been published in book or journal form and are less likely to be found in a library. For example, institutional reports, brochures, and press releases. This type of material is sometimes more difficult to access than books or journal articles and is less likely to be useful for academic assignments. 

Web pages

Web pages are online documents found on the World Wide Web. Only choose this type if there is no more specific description.


Newspapers are daily or weekly publications that focus on news and current events.


Magazines are periodical publications of general interest or technical articles on a particular subject.


Reports are official numbered publications analyzing an issue or situation.

Study material

Study material is provided by your lecturer for you to study as part of your course.


Once you have decided what type of source you have, you can determine how to go about citing it. For more information on how to format your citations, visit the Library's Citation Guide. 

  • Last Updated Oct 01, 2021
  • Views 38
  • Answered By Lisa Crumit-Hancock

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