Handout: Scholarly Sources



Yeah, but is it scholarly?

And should I care?
Yes, you should care! If you’re going to write a paper on a topic, and you’re seeking out other people’s opinions and research, don’t you want to find the most accurate research out there? Why bother reading something if you can’t be sure it’s accurate, truthful and reliable?

Ask yourself these questions about the sources you decide to use in your paper:
Who wrote it?
Do you have any reason to believe that this person knows a lot about the topic? How do you know? What kind of credentials do they have? Is it a journalist reporting on something they barely know about, or is it an academic scholar who has been studying the topic for years? Don’t know who wrote it? That may tell you something!

Who reads it?
Academic writing can be hard to read; it requires you to have a deep interest in the topic and be able to follow sound reasoning. Popular writing is meant to be enjoyed and readable by anyone regardless of prior experience with the topic. Can you find the publication you’re reading from on the bookstore magazine rack or a “.com” website? Or is the stuff in obscure journals that only an experienced set of people can appreciate?

Why was it written?
Was it written to make the big bucks and sell copies of magazines? Does it advance knowledge?

Other questions to ask if you’re still not sure:
– Is it outdated?
– Does the author tell you where they got their information? (Do they cite their sources?)
– Is it longer than a page or two?
– Is it structured into sections (abstract, bibliography, introduction, conclusion?)
– Do the pictures/graphs support the text, or are they just there for show?

Dealing with your professors…
There’s more than one level of “scholarly”. Sometimes you need to get your professors or GSIs to clarify what they want. ¬†Ask if they want you to use only peer-reviewed materials, which go through a very rigorous process in order to get published, or if using scholarly, but not peer-reviewed, materials are okay.


Useful Terms:

Scholarly publication (aka Journal)
This contains articles that were written by experts in a particular field of study. The primary audience for these articles is field study experts and students and, as a result, the articles are typically sophisticated and advanced. A scholarly publication can be a peer-review.

Peer-reviewed publication (aka Refereed publication)
Before an article is accepted for publication in this type of journal, it is reviewed by several experts in the field who suggest possible changes and recommend to the editor of the journal whether or not to publish the article. It has all the characteristics of a scholarly publication but articles tend to be of higher quality.

A periodical issued at frequent intervals (usually daily, semi-weekly, or weekly) containing news, opinions, advertisements and other information of current and often local interest.

Periodical (aka Serial)
An item which is published on a regular basis, such as a journal, magazine, newspaper, or newsletter. (Also known as a serial because it is published on an ongoing basis)

Popular publication (aka Magazine)
Informs readers about issues of common interest to the general public with an informal tone and scope. The articles use simple, non-technical vocabulary.

Primary Sources
Primary sources are original materials. They are from the time period involved and have not been filtered though interpretation.

Professional publication (aka Trade publication)
Contains articles by people working in a particular field of study. Covers news in the field, brief reports on research, and opinions about trends and events.

Secondary Sources
Secondary sources are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.

Definitions listed above were adapted from four websites, one developed by Leslie Wurtha and Ka-Neng Au at Rutgers University’s Libraries – https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/indexes/scholarly_articles.shtml , another developed by the librarians at the University of Maryland – https://www.lib.umd.edu/guides/primary-sources.html, a third developed at the University of British Columbia’s Library – https://www.library.ubc.ca/hss/instruction/scholpop.pdf, and a fourth developed at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater – https://library.uww.edu/guides/tutorials/glossary.html.



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1 Comment

  1. I used this handout in class on October 24, 2013 in an introductory class for the Synthesis unit, in a discussion about research methods.

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