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Research Smarter: Information Literacy Skills: Scholarly & Professional Sources

Build essential research skills for college success and lifelong learning.

Is My Source Scholarly?

This image is reused by permission from Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For more information on scholarly sources, visit this link.

Types of Information & Source Types

Check out these sample websites on childhood nutrition. Can you tell which is scholarly?

How to read scholarly articles

How to Identify Scholarly & Professional Resources

Although you can find useful information in general or popular resources, many instructors expect students to use scholarly and/or professional resources for college-level research.

Is it scholarly or professional?

Does it meet the majority of the these criteria?

  1. The author is typically a scholar, researcher or professional in the field. The author’s expertise is usually provided and verifiable.
     
  2. The writing style is usually scholarly, technical or formal. The author often uses terminology that requires some familiarity with the subject or profession.
     
  3. The intended audience is usually limited to scholars, professionals, and students in a particular field of study. 
     
  4. The resource is usually published by a college, university, academic press, professional association, or commercial publisher specializing in scholarly or professional works. The publication process ensures the information is more likely to be accurate, reliable and unbiased, and the methodology adheres to standards established by the field of study or profession.
     
  5. The resource contributes new information to the field of study. Examples include: reports on original research or experimentation; new theories, interpretations or criticism of existing ideas; reviews synthesizing multiple works or an area of study, often with implications for future research; and reviews, criticism or commentary regarding other scholarly resources.
     
  6. The work usually includes a bibliography and/or footnotes crediting other scholarly sources.
     
  7. The work is often “peer-reviewed” or “refereed.” This means it was reviewed independently by other experts in the same field before being approved for publication.
     
  8. Source information such as the author (or editor), title, publication date and publisher is provided. Without this information, it is more difficult to evaluate and credit the source.

The Pros and Cons of Different Source Types

Pro:

  • Peer-reviewed: experts read and comment on quality of article prior to publication
  • Authority is clear
  • Articles written by the experts themselves, not by outside journalists
  • Almost always include citations
  • Often affiliated with professional organizations
  • Less influenced by ad revenue than magazines and newspapers

Con:

  • Not cheap or easy to find outside of academia
  • Publish articles less frequently than newspapers or websites = not suitable for breaking news
  • Written for experts in the field; can be too technical for a newcomer or casual reader

Intended Audience: Scholars, researchers, professionals, and university students in particular field

Watch for: "Predatory" or "pay to publish" online journals

Pro:

  • Current information
  • Specialized articles related to a particular discipline or profession (including context and analysis)

Con:

  • Sources not always cited
  • Articles vary between short and easy to lengthy and highly specific

Intended Audience: Professional organizations or professionals/scholars with similar interests

What For / Consider: Has characteristics in common with both popular magazines and scholarly journals

Pro:

  • More space than newspapers, magazines, or journals results in greater depth of information
  • Often include tables of contents and indexes for easy navigation and discovery
  • Often include footnotes, endnotes, and/or bibliographies
  • Most books undergo some sort of editorial process (usually writer - editor)

Con:

  • Take more time to read than other sources
  • Can take months or even years to publish
  • Many books do not undergo peer review
  • Rise in self-publishing means more unedited or poorly edited books reach publication

Intended Audience: Varies (general audience through scholars)

What For / Consider: Information may be dated due to the time it takes to publish a book.

Pro:

  • More space than newspapers = longer articles, more depth
  • Published faster than books
  • Articles undergo an editorial process involving many people: reporter to editor to copy editor
  • Authority is clear for most articles

Con:

  • Less space than books
  • Publish articles less frequently than websites or newspapers; information can be outdated by press time
  • Reporters often aren’t experts and are writing for general audiences, not experts
  • Articles are not peer-reviewed
  • Rely on advertising and subscription revenue

Intended Audience: General audience or those with a specific, recreational interest (e.g. sports, fashion, science, etc.)

What For / Consider: Potential editorial bias

Pro:

  • Published more frequently than magazines, journals, or books
  • Articles undergo an editorial process involving many people -- reporter to editor to copy editor
  • Authority is clear for most articles

Con:

  • Space limitations = shorter articles, less detail
  • Publish articles less frequently than websites; information can be outdated by press time
  • Reporters often aren’t experts and are writing for general audiences, not experts
  • Articles are not peer-reviewed
  • Rely on advertising and subscription revenue

Intended Audience: General audience

What For / Consider: Contains both fact-based reporting and editorial content (opinions). Opinions may be biased.

Pro:

  • Easy to find using Google
  • Often have higher editorial and design standards than personal websites
  • Often managed by professional writers and designers
  • Government websites are designed to inform citizens

Con:

  • Commercial interests may come first
  • Articles are written for general audiences
  • Bylines often missing and works rarely cited

Intended Audience: General audience

What For / Consider: Governmental and educational websites have higher credibility than commercial websites

Pro:

  • Articles easy to find using the site’s search field or Google
  • Articles about current events updated frequently
  • Best articles are edited by a crowd of interested and informed writers
  • Useful for background information

Con:

  • Editorial standards set by community; minimal oversight from Wikipedia staff
  • Articles on obscure topics can go untouched for months
  • Non-experts have just as much editorial control as experts
  • Worst articles are poorly written and poorly sourced
  • Instructors do not allow use as a source

Intended Audience: General audience

What For / Consider: Use the reference list to find other sources that can used

Pro:

  • Easy to find through Google
  • Might be updated quickly and frequently
  • Direct access to person / author
  • Access to scholarly work in progress
  • Expansion of published work

Con:

  • No editorial standards or oversight = author can express opinions, biases, and incorrect information with few consequences
  • May not include information about the author, date of publication, or sources cited (if any)
  • Vary widely in quality and reliability

Intended Audience: General audience through scholars depending on the source

What For / Consider: High potential for bias. Usually informal.


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