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NWACC Library


Resources for Composition I and Composition II courses

Understand Information Needs & the Information Life Cycle


Start here to get when you don’t know much about the topic to find basic information and get context.
These sources, which might be quickly created explainer about something happening now or detailed overviews created at a distance from the event, will help you find angles, search terms and approaches to your topic. Find background in:

  • Websites like Wikipedia
  • Books/eBooks
  • Video / Audio
Current Events

These sources are created during or immediately after the event - they are contemporaneous.
Use current events to help you clarify for your audience why they should care about your topic. Find current events in:

  • Social media like Instagram
  • News sites or feeds
  • Video / Audio (YouTube, TikTok, podcasts, radio, TV, etc.)
  • Popular Magazines [may be on social media, their website, or in library search tools] such as Forbes, Popular Mechanics, Wired, Consumer Reports, Time, People, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Economist, Sports Illustrated.
Data / Statistics

Data is the raw information used to create statistics. Statistics are based on analysis of the data. While data will trickle out as events unfold, the statistics created from it improve with more data points.
Data and statistics can help you demonstrate how your topic impacts and affects others. Find data and statistics in:

  • Websites
  • News feeds and sites
  • Scholarly/academic journals

Most everyone has opinions that tell you what they think or feel. Opinions can begin during the event and may continue for a long time after an event. These sources can be used to portray lived experience and are easy to find.
Look especially at social media, audio such as podcasts and video, for interviews, comments, and letters in all types of sources, and in both the editorial and opinion sections of news sites.


Analysis takes time and distance from the event's occurrence. Analysis is credible and reliable interpretation of events, data, or research filtered through expertise and/or education. It can be easy to confuse with opinion; anyone can have an opinion about football, but a former professional football player or coach might offer in-depth, expert analysis. Find analysis quickly in:

  • Books/ebooks
  • Scholarly/academic journals
  • Professional/trade journals

This information usually takes time, often years, to create. In college classes, research is the platinum level source. Research can be presentations of new information or facts from studies, investigations, interviews, or scholarship done by academics, scientists, scholars, or other researchers.
Find research primarily in scholarly/academic journals or use your own empirical work, such as polls, surveys, and interviews you create and conduct.

Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

Primary sources are original documents, objects, or media created during the time of the event being researched, or by an individual(s) who directly experienced an event, made a discovery, or created a new work of art. They are raw materials with a direct relationship to whatever is being studied.

Examples: photographs, speeches, diaries, editorials, letters, interviews, historic artifacts, works of art, musical scores, performances, literary works, survey research, legal documents, proceedings, patents, video or audio recordings of events being studied, etc.

Secondary sources are a step removed from the original source. They may comment or build upon original primary sources.

Examples: second-hand reports on events, research, or works created by someone else at a different time or place; criticisms; reviews; interpretations; citations; etc.

Tertiary sources typically compile and condense a range of primary and/or secondary sources into an easily-digestible format.

Examples: encyclopedias, almanacs, timelines, bibliographies, directories, fact books, etc. (Note: Many of these are also considered secondary sources.)

Across disciplines, contexts, and perspectives, the definition of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources differ.  Some scholars consider encyclopedias secondary sources, while others consider them tertiary sources. In today’s environment of digitized content, most would contend an online image of a primary document or transcript is sufficient, while others might argue the original physical copy is essential for primary research. Like many areas of study, distinctions are fuzzy and subject to interpretation. When in doubt, clarify your instructor’s expectations.

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