"What are all these articles for?"

Pieces of paper on a desk


This activity engages students in a consideration of source types and how these types can be used to inform their research.

Time Required

  • This activity will take approximately 10-15 minutes.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to articulate the types of information needed for a research paper.
  • Students will be able to identify types of sources that meet various information needs.
  • Students will be able to articulate whether a source type is considered scholarly.

Materials Needed

  • Whiteboard and markers for instructor.
  • A folder with articles and evaluation sheet for each group of 5-7 students.
  • Each folder contains articles on the same research topic and includes the following source types:
    • A newspaper article;
    • Magazine article;
    • Printed statistics from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census, etc.;
    • Journal article;
    • Something to represent a book (printed chapter, etc.);
    • Professional blog post.
  • Each folder also contains a "What are all these articles for, anyway?" worksheet with the titles of the assorted articles and publication names already entered in the first column.
  • Blank copies of the "What are all these articles for, anyway?" for each student for use with their own research later.


  • Get a relevant search topic to discuss.
    • Ask students for a couple of their research topics – write these on the board.
      Talk about the kinds of information they would need to educate themselves about these research topic in order to write a paper or an annotated bibliography. Write these five kinds on the board:
      • Background (history, definitions)
      • News (what's going on recently)
      • Statistics (raw data)
      • Opinion (reasoned analysis)
      • Research (actual, empirical research like surveys or clinical trials)
  • Relate the activity to their assignment.
    • Their class assignment in mind, ask them for the kinds of sources they need to find. Write these on the board (book, academic article, newspaper article, magazine article, blog, website, government website, or policy statement. Put these on the board as they mention them. Put "Pro" on one side and "Con" on the other. Talk about what each kind of source is good for. What is it not so good for? Is it considered scholarly?
  • Practice evaluating different kinds of articles/sources.
    • Put students in groups of 5-7.
    • Ask each group to choose a "scribe". Give each scribe a packet of articles and a copy of the worksheet with the article titles already filled in. Explain that we are doing research on the U.S. unemployment rate. We've gathered six different articles from different kinds of places. Each one is listed on the evaluation sheet.
    • Ask the scribe to give each group member an article or two. Group members should take about five minutes to scan the articles and tell the scribe what kind of source it is and what information need it will likely meet. Ask them to ignore the quality evaluation for now since they don't have time to read the articles. The scribe should record the groups observations by checking the appropriate boxes on the worksheet.
  • Discussion
    • When the groups have finished (approximately five minutes), ask each group about an article – where it comes from, what they would probably use it for, or whether it is scholarly. Students often will mark an article as being useful for more than one kind of information need. They are also frequently unsure of the source type. Help them discuss and clarify source types and why they felt that source would fill a certain kind of information need.