ENGL 235 Introduction to Technical Communication (Wilber)

Writing a Proposal for Specific Audiences - for students in Ari Wilber's 235

Information Type Matters

Using Different Source Types

Use different information resources to find different kinds of information.

Watch this video and then consider the varied source types below.

Source: "Research 101: Format matters" by Anna Eisen, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn about the process behind how different formats are created, how to connect format to purpose and identify source types appropriate to a need. Also, learn that information may be perceived differently based on the format in which it is packaged.

Understanding Different Source Types 

Reference book articles, or academic encyclopedias, are a great place to start. Go to reference for background knowledge, theoretical terms, an overview of the history of a subject or issues, key players - and leads to more information.

example of sources 
Read reference for:
  • background knowledge
  • theoretical terms
  • an overview of the history of a subject or issues
  • key players
  • leads to more information.
image of an encyclopedia book cover
Read books, book chapters, and essays in anthologies for:
  • in-depth analysis
  • history
  • opinion
  • theory
  • multiple perspectives
image of a book
Read newspaper articles for:
  • a daily account of events and issues on a local, regional, national or international scale
  • analysis of current issues
  • editorial and opinion pieces
  • business, environment and science news
image of newspapers
Read magazine articles for:
  • more in-depth discussion of current events and issues in the news
  • longer articles written for an interested audience in lay-person language on technology, health, science, business and more
  • illustrations: charts, pictures and graphs
magazine cover - bloomberg business week
View and listen to multimedia for:
  • documentaries on current science, engineering and business topics
  • informed discussion and analysis
  • case studies & personal accounts
  • background information
image of a video online
Read trade articles to learn about:
  • news briefs or overviews of current research and tools
  • current trends and updates in the profession
  • professional terminology
  • opinion on governmental policy, current issues, and more
  • professional development
  • to find leads to more information on your subject
professional journal: security management
Read scholarly articles and books to learn about:
  • current research
  • in-depth analysis
  • metareviews of the literature
  • professional terminology
  • find data, statistics, charts, and other factual information
  • to get a sense of the scope of the scholarly conversation on your subject
  • to find leads to more information on your subject
image of Chemical Engineering Journal cover
What else is there? 

The list above is not exhaustive. From tweets and blogposts to conference proceedings and reports, there is a wide world of information. 

Ask of each source: 

  • Is it reliable? If so, how do you know? What is the purpose of this information? What role will this play in your research?

Contextualize your information sources in the body of your essay, so it is clear to your reader how much weight they should place on each source.


What is the difference?

Learning the difference primary and secondary sources is important. Ideally, you want to include both types of sources in your work. 

Differences between primary and secondary sources
Primary sources Secondary sources
Cover of a journal article with original research articles inside cover of magazine - Mother Jones

Primary Source Information comes directly from real life data or from the time of an event.

Examples include:

  • statistics,
  • laboratory or social experiments and scholarly articles that report on the results,
  • news reporting that occurs when an event happens,
  • diaries/journals,
  • product specifications, and
  • transcripts of speeches, testimony, or meetings.

Secondary Source Information comes from a collection of primary-source data that is drawn together to provide a larger picture view of an event or to provide an opinion or review.

Examples include: 

  • most textbooks,
  • summaries of past research (called "literature reviews"),
  • overviews and encyclopedia works,
  • policy or product recommendations and
  • reviews of products or works.

a closer look at primary and secondary sources

Identifying primary sources

As shown in the image below, a primary source is one that has undergone scientific study or experiment. It is original research that has been complete by specialists, or experts in the field. 

  • This image shows that the journal is called "The New England Journal of Medicine" so you can expect to find medical topics discussed within, written at an academic level.
  • The image shows also the title of the article "Green Tea and the Risk of Gastic Cancer in Japan." It is a very specific study, and the highlighted sections on the image show that there is a discussion of how the original research was carried out and what the results of the study were.

Identifying secondary sources

In the previous tab you were able to see an image of a primary source, a scholarly journal article discussing the health impact of green tea in relation to cancer. In the image below is a secondary source. It was written in a newspaper, "The New York Times" and does not offer scientific study or experiment. It doesn't not contain original research, nor was it written by experts in that field. Rather, as a newspaper article it was written by a journalists. 

  • Notice the title of the article: " The Claim: Green Tea Helps Prevent Cancer"
  • You can see that it just mentions research studies and some of their findings, but it doesn't include the actual research, citations, or additional info. It is very brief, and it was written with casual, easy to read language. It provides an analysis or a summary of a primary source.(click on image to enlarge)

(click on the image to enlarge)

image of the first page of a journal article.

(click on the image to enlarge)

image shows an article from the New York times newspaper

The Information Timeline

There are many type of sources you can get your info from, so....which source should you use?

It depends...

  • are you looking for info on a specific event in time?  Consider the "Timeline" in the chart below
  • are you looking for info on a general theme?  Consider the "Your Info Need" in the chart below  
    • It is generally helpful to start with Reference Sources first, then choose other source types based on the level or type of info that is most helpful to you

(Click on image to enlarge)

Image of a table showing the breakdown of the information timeline, outlined also in the text below the image.

As shown in the image above, information is created, recorded, and distributed various different mediums at different times. 

Information Timeline 

The event occurs and…

  • Within minutes or hours - you can find info on Social media platforms – such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc.

    • Good for: short personal reactions, opinion, announcements

  • Within hours, a day – you can find info in Newspapers, news sites, TV, Radio – such as cnn.com, BBC radio, New York Times, etc.

    • Good for: current or local info, facts, viewpoints, breaking news

  • Within a week to a month – you can find info in Magazines or Trade journals – such as Time, People Magazine, Wired, Education Week, etc.

    • Good for: summaries of info, some analysis for general public or specific profession

  • Within 6 to 8 months later and continuing – you can find info in Peer-Reviewed scholarly journals­ - such as like Nature, Journal of American Medical Association, etc.

    • Good for:  deep analysis of specific topics in academic research

  • Within 1 year later and continuing – you can find info in Books and Films – such as non-fiction, biographies, documentaries, etc.

    • Good for: thorough, comparative coverage of a topic history, complexity

  • Within 2 years later and continuing – you can find info in Reference Sources – such as encyclopedias, textbooks, atlases, manuals, etc.

    • Good for: broad overviews, key issues, statistics, topic specialized vocabulary

Image source: all images here created by GRC librarians

Assess your Information Sources

Audience & Purpose

Just as you need to understand your audiences and purpose when writing a grant proposal, you need to consider the audience and purpose of the information sources you use to research and support your proposal.


  • Information format: Format can reflect how much time, thought, editorial oversight, and research went into an article, video, web page, or other info source.
  • Authority is contextual: Who created the information matters, but authority is contextual means that there are different kinds of credibility. Assess who created the information you might use, why they created it, if they have firsthand knowledge, if they have an impartial outside perspective, if they have researched the topic, etc. And of course, assess what kinds of authority will be respected by your audience.