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Evaluating Sources: Scholarly Conversation

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

Scholarship as Conversation

Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.

Research in scholarly and professional fields is a discursive practice in which ideas are formulated, debated, and weighed against one another over extended periods of time. Instead of seeking discrete answers to complex problems, experts understand that a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives as part of an ongoing conversation in which information users and creators come together and negotiate meaning. Experts understand that, while some topics have established answers through this process, a query may not have a single uncontested answer. Experts are therefore inclined to seek out many perspectives, not merely the ones with which they are familiar. These perspectives might be in their own discipline or profession or may be in other fields. While novice learners and experts at all levels can take part in the conversation, established power and authority structures may influence their ability to participate and can privilege certain voices and information. Developing familiarity with the sources of evidence, methods, and modes of discourse in the field assists novice learners to enter the conversation. New forms of scholarly and research conversations provide more avenues in which a wide variety of individuals may have a voice in the conversation. Providing attribution to relevant previous research is also an obligation of participation in the conversation. It enables the conversation to move forward and strengthens one’s voice in the conversation.

Some Aspects of that Conversation

An idea can come at any moment. Sometimes ideas are written on post-it notes, napkins, legal pads, or spoken into a cell phone while driving. Those ideas are thought about. If a professional researcher or faculty member has one of those ideas, they may do some initial research; have others had this thought or this view of this idea? That initial thought may become a conversation with another faculty member in the halls or an email to a colleague at another institution. With encouragement, more focused research begins. It may get to a point that the person needs help or they may want other input; they either write a white paper (a proposed idea) or may make a conference proposal. A paper delivered at a conference is researched, but may have not come a final researched position. The Q&A period, after the presentation, may allow for direction, refutation, or the learning of new ideas; it starts a conversation with the broader academy. After refinement, that initial idea may be ready for publication. That simple idea becomes an interaction with earlier publications, current researchers, and becomes groundwork for future generations.

All of your instruction and reading of articles is a conversation. What you write becomes a part of that conversation. Typically student work is a summary of the current state of an idea, but it still a part of the scholarly conversation. Books, articles, entries in encyclopedias, websites, films, and presentations are all part of the conversation.

A good student will acknowledge those that participated in their work; a reference page acknowledges the conversation partners.

Scholarship is a Conversation