Skip to Main Content

Library Research Process: A Tutorial

Find sources

What's a Credible Source?

Looking Good!

credible source t-shirt

When your instructor tells you to use credible sources, what does that mean? A credible source is one that is believable and trustworthy. Using it to support your paper will enhance your work.

Looking for credible works to support your paper is kind of like shopping for a nice shirt. You want the shirt to fit well and be constructed well, without holes or missing pieces.  In short, you are looking at the quality (parts and materials) of what it's made of  and the authority (experience, skill) of the person who created it. You want to look good-- no missing buttons or mismatched sleeves! 

The same goes for an article or book or other information source that you would want to use in your paper.  You want to look good for your audience, so you want sources that support you in looking good. The information source should fit with the rest of what you're saying, be of good quality (no holes in the argument or missing points), and the person who wrote that source should be credible (experienced, credentialed, skilled) in that topic.  Using a credible source will make your work sound believable too.  It's a win-win!

When looking for credible information sources to support your paper or speech, ask yourself about:


  • Does the source fit what I'm saying and make my work sound credible (believable)?
  • Is the work accurate? Is it relevant to my paper? Why was it written? 


  • Do I know who created the source?
  • Do I know what their qualifications were to create the source?
  • Note: Authority can vary by context

Scholarly (Journal) Articles vs Popular (Magazine) Articles:

If your instructor wants you to use only scholarly sources for your research, then who the source is written BY (author) and who it's written FOR (audience) can make a big difference in the quality and authority of the source.

For example, this table shows a side-by-side comparison between magazines and journals. Note the the major differences in quality and authority between them :

Magazine vs. Journal (Skyline College page)

And here's a short video explaining the parts of a scholarly article and how to read it:

 Anatomy of a Scholarly Article (4:47) (NC State University Libraries page)

Find Credible Sources by Type

Which credible source should I use?

Now that you have an idea of what you want to write about, it's time to find some good (credible) sources to support your ideas. 

Before you dive in, take stock of what you already know about your topic so you choose the right source:

  • Do you have terms that need to be explained or defined so your audience understands? If so, use a tertiary source from the Reference Collection, like an encyclopedia, for an overview or definitions.
  • Do you need to discuss something in depth? Then use secondary sources, like books in our Circulating Collection, that address your topic at length (like  several pages or chapters or the whole book).
  • Do you need to address specific points in your writing? Use articles like those found in our databases, like those in Academic Search Complete; articles are shorter than books/chapters and usually focus on a specific research question. Primary sources can be used as specific examples to emphasize and support your points. 
  • Is your topic relatively new? Use newspaper articles or reputable web sites to find out information-- but be sure you are using credible sources instead of fake news.

Always evaluate what you find! And if you don't know where to begin, ASK A LIBRARIAN.

source types bullseyePrimary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Source types can vary by the viewpoint of the author. One way to look at this is like a bullseye, where primary sources are at the very center, secondary sources are the middle ring, and tertiary sources are the outer ring. 

Primary Source: This is the center of the bullseye. Think "I'm number one!" or eyewitness, or I-witness. This source was written by the person who experienced the situation or idea. It is their viewpoint of the experience. For example, letters or memoirs or original research surveys or autobiographies. Example source: The Weight of Shadows

Secondary Source: This ring encircles the center of the bullseye. A second person came along and gathered up the primary source information and added their own interpretation of that information. Example source:  The Making of a Dream

Tertiary Source: This ring encircles the center and the second ring. A third person became an expert in the field and became familiar with the primary and secondary source information, and because of their vast expertise this person is asked to write a concise definition (or a chapter, or a few pages, or a whole book) about that information. This writing could be a dictionary definition or an encyclopedia entry or a whole encyclopedia.  Example: See Undocumented Immigrants in the United States

Knowing that these different source types exist can affect how you progress in your research. Jumping straight into reading articles before you get adequate background information means you've jumped right into someone else's research question, and it may be difficult to understand the article if it assumes you are already a scholar in that field (see scholarly vs popular).

In short, if you don't know much about your subject, start with a tertiary source to get an overview. Then use secondary sources to get further depth on your topic or research question. And then later look to primary source material to get specific examples. You can always jump back and forth between the types once you've looked at a few sources and get an idea of the scope of your topic or research question. 

Is there one perfect source?

It can take time to find good sources that will support your writing. (2:08)

license for creative commons  This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license by North Carolina State University Libraries, July, 2014.  

Find Credible Sources with Library Tools

Start Your Research Here

The SDCC Library web site,, is a one-stop shop for academic library resources that you have access to as a City College student. Here's a short video introduction to the site. (3:42)


Find Books & e-Books 

Library tools take time to figure out. But with practice you will get better at using them!

Finding e-books video using OneSearch, SDCCD Books+ and A-Z Databases (2:20). This is an animated video with no voices. A descriptive transcript is provided on YouTube.

Find Articles & Journals

Library tools take time to figure out. But with practice you will get better at using them!

Finding articles & journals video using OneSearch, EBSCO Articles, and A-Z Databases (2:11). This is an animated video with no voices. A descriptive transcript is provided on YouTube.


Search Tips:

*OneSearch doesn't show you everything! Some databases, like those from EBSCO, are not included so you will need to search them separately.

  • To find Books, e-books and reference materials --> Use SDCCD Books+, A-Z Databases, or OneSearch
  • To find Textbooks for your class--> Use Course Reserves
  • To find Articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers --> Use A-Z Databases, EBSCO Articles, or OneSearch
  • To find Periodicals by title --> Use Journal Finder or OneSearch
  • To find Videos and media --> Use Videos link, A-Z Databases (choose Films on Demand, Swank, or Kanopy), or OneSearch
custom footer