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Evaluating Sources: Identify an Academic Book

Guide to understanding "scholarly sources" and evaluating academic quality.

What is a scholarly source?

What is a scholarly source?

Scholarly sources are written by experts in a particular field or area of study (discipline). These sources are used by others in the same discipline to stay informed and up to date on the most recent research, research findings, and news in that discipline. You might also hear scholarly sources referred to as peer-reviewed, edited, or refereed.

Why use scholarly sources?

Using scholarly sources is an expected part of your academic course work because these sources are credible and authoritative; they are written by academically recognized experts. These types of sources will help you produce quality papers and presentations.

You are now a part of the scholarly community and need to join the scholarly conversation. Here is how it works and why these sources are important:

Building Blocks

  • Scholarship builds on previous ideas and discoveries. For example, medical care improves due to research. That research is published and/or presented. Other researchers consult this scholarship and produce their own research to be published and/or presented, etc.

Creating Pathways to Discovery

  • Researchers credit ideas and discoveries through citations and references in their papers/presentations. You, as a student researcher, also need to credit the ideas and discoveries of the researchers referenced in your own papers/presentations.

Creation of New Knowledge

  • Students write papers/present and cite previous research in their own work. They become the next generation of researchers and part of the scholarly conversation.

How can I tell if a source is scholarly?

Scholarly sources have particular characteristics as follows:

  • The language used in scholarly sources is typically the language used in the discipline covered.
  • Scholarly sources generally assume some prior knowledge of the topic being discussed.
  • Many scholarly journals are published by a professional organization of the discipline.
  • Many scholarly journals are "peer reviewed" or "refereed". The author of an article must submit the article for review by a panel of experts in the field to be accepted for publication.
  • Articles are written by a scholar or expert in the field.
  • Scholarly journal articles and books generally have sources cited in footnotes and a bibliography (also called "works cited" or "references").
  • The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.

Scholarly Books

Here are some helpful characteristics to look for in books to determine academic quality:


Book publishers - What do you know about the publisher? Is the publisher known for publishing books used by scholars? University presses (Oxford University Press, University of California, etc.) publish scholarly and well-researched titles. If you don't know, look up the publisher's web site and see if you can determine the nature of the books published by them.


Footnotes and Bibliographies - Does the book include footnotes or in-text citations? Does the book include a Bibliography (also known as References or Works Cited)? These are characteristics of scholarly books as well as journal articles.


Edited material - Was the book assembled by one or more editors with contributions from other authors? Editors act as a review committee and make sure the contributors are factual and accurate. An editorial note is likely to be found in the introduction to the book if the material is controversial, theoretical, or still under investigation.

Books in a university library collection - Books in university libraries are generally purchased with the goal of supporting classes and research at that institution. Librarians work with faculty and professional resources to select the best from the thousands of books, journals and electronic resources published every year. This gets rid of a large amount of junk or lesser-quality materials in order to bring you the best. This is a more focused and evaluated collection that jumping into the Internet, so why not start with your library catalog for resources?