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Which Source Is Better: Books, Articles, Internet, Emails, And Interviews?

Updated on August 2, 2013
Yoon Sik Kim profile image

A Ph. D. in English, Dr. Kim teaches at Murray State College. A bug rancher, he also keeps honeybees (Google Dr. Kim's Honey Farm).

Which Outside Sources Are Better and Why?


Which source is better: books, articles, internet, emails, and interviews?

While working on a research project, students often wonder as to which outside source should be considered as the best: books, articles, internet sources, emails, and personal interviews. Given various types of available outside sources nowadays, which one should be given the priority and why? Although the internet sources, especially the ones associated with government agencies and research universities, are getting better each year, you need to be cautious about using internet sources alone in your research. In general, assuming all these sources are up-to-date, published books and articles in peer-reviewed journals are better sources than internet sources or other forms of personal communication.

Primary Sources and Secondary Sources

Before we talk about why books and articles are better sources than the rest, you need to know that there are two types of outside sources: primary sources and secondary sources. If you conduct a lab research or conduct a survey yourself for the first time and write about the research issues, procedures, and results, in a book or in an article—that source of information is a primary source since you did not use any other sources. Everything you have done is original. However, if you are writing a book, comparing, contrasting, summarizing, and synthesizing all the researches others have done in the past, you are using secondary sources to support your claim. Of course, primary sources are better as they are original although you can support your original researches using secondary sources.


Books are typically the best outside sources for you to cite in supporting your research paper. Here is why. Before authoring a book, many researchers often write proposals and articles to be presented at international and national conferences. Not all proposals or articles submitted will be accepted by peer-reviewers, the first step of screening for quality control. However, when a researcher has successfully presented at such internationally recognized venues for many times, she will be able to publish such articles in several peer-reviewed, reputed journals, which provides yet another round of quality screening because not all the articles submitted will be accepted; usually, it is much tougher to get accepted in a journal or a periodical than get accepted for a conference presentation. When the researcher has appeared in acclaimed journals or periodicals several times, she now can collect all the articles she has published and compile them into a book. As you can see, such book has gone through many steps of screening based on quality, reputation, and peer-review. As a result of rigorous screening, books are invariably the most reliable outside sources.


Good articles published in reputed periodicals often go through at least two steps of quality control, assuming it was presented at a conference first: initial conference presentation and consequential publication in a reputed journal. Again, a well-known conference will not accept mediocre proposals or articles as its reputation depends on them. Worse, getting published in nationally or internationally recognized journals or periodicals are even more challenging as the rate of article acceptance is even smaller. As a result, articles published in peer-reviewed journals are second best outside sources for you to cite. If you are unsure about the reputation of a particular journal, you should ask your advisor to help you sort through the grain from the chaff. For example, there are many vanity national and international conferences, just as there are many vanity journals and periodicals; they typically charge high registration or other fees and bogus conferences are often held at a resort or at a place near a great university—to take advantage of its name-recognition. Similarly, good journals and periodicals often possess their own “brand name” and thus they are well-known in your area of specialization; as a result, the competition to get published in one of these is fierce. As a result, articles published in one can be trustworthy, thus making them your second best outside sources.

Internet Sources

Internet sources are getting better each year; sometimes they can be as good as any book or articles in a peer-reviewed journal—especially if they are affiliated with research universities or government agencies. However, if they are associated with commercial websites, their information can be biased or skewed to sell a product or a service. For example, let’s say you are a UFO buff, and you visit a commercial site that proclaims alleged “facts” about UFO sightings, and then you cite its information as “facts” ; however, it will be difficult for others to verify these “facts” independently. As a result, your source cannot be reliable. Similarly, personal websites are not a good source to cite for obvious reasons. One of the best ways to determine whether a site is legitimate or not is to check its url very carefully to see if it contains .com, .org, or .edu, for instance. Avoid personal websites at all cost.

Emails and Interviews

Although your email exchange with experts in the field of your research can be legitimate, just as the interviews you have conducted with the nationally-known researcher—personal communications do not carry much weight as any printed materials do: they are private communications and as such they have yet to endure public scrutiny. If the data or the information you have gathered through personal communication is solid, such information needs to be in a book or in an article: it is unlikely for any expert to spill his “trade secrets” or “expertise” so casually over the phone or via email although she may be able to expound on subject matters already published. As a result, the weight of personal communications as an outside source is light. In your research, use this type of source sparingly.

Books tend to be a better source than internet sources.


Primary Sources Are Better Than Secondary Sources



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    • Yoon Sik Kim profile image

      Yoon Sik Kim 4 years ago from Republic of Oklahoma

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. As illustrated in the article, personal communications do not carry much weight as they are in private domain: they have yet to be scrutinized and tested in public.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      I thought that your Hub was very interesting when I read it.

      When I do research I compare various sources - books, magazines, well-known & well rated Internet sites, and so on. I see how close all of their facts are, etc. I usually take the facts which are the same, or near enough.

      I do not trust any email unless it is from a source such as AARP or .gov