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Identifying Scholarly Literature

But I'm Not a Bibliographer...
Help with the Nuts and Bolts (Nodes and Bar Codes?) of Research


You hear: "For this assignment I want you to use scholarly sources. Your bibliography must consist of articles from scholarly journals, scholarly books, and if you cite web sources they better be by scholars."

You ask yourself: "What is a scholarly source?"

Short answer: A scholarly source is a publication written for a specific professional audience. It is an argument based on the explanation of numerical or physical evidence, historical or literary theory, or some type of systematic interpretation. It is a publication that accounts for the learning that proceeded it. A scholarly source contributes to an existing body of study.

In practice: As a rule, scholarly sources share these characteristics:

  • They have a bibliography.
  • They are written in style stipulated by a professional academic association (ALA, MLA, etc.).
  • The publications credit authors who have expertise in the field they are writing about.
  • Scholarly sources explain what they are trying to prove. They include sections on the methodology of the research (how the work was done), and a review of the published scholarship in the field.
  • They are specific. In particular, scholarly articles have very narrow focuses and appear in journals with clearly stated purposes-like The Journal of Humanistic Psychology or Human Molecular Genetics.
  • Most scholarly books are published by university presses.
  • They are often written in with highly technical language; language one learns by studying in a field.

One can find extremely thoughtful articles in publications like the New York Times, Harpers, or the Atlantic, however, because these articles are personal narrative or journalism and do not include bibliographies they would not, as a rule, work for a research paper.

If you have questions about the sources you're working with, contact the SLU Libraries Reference staff at...