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Boatwright Memorial Library

FYS 100 (06) - Heroes and Villains: Choosing the Best Sources

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly writing or academic scholarship tends to come from people (like your professors) producing knowledge and engaging in conversation with fellow scholars in their field. This work may be published in academic journals, as a book, a chapter in an edited volume, or an online publication.

Learn to recognize scholarly sources with the following criteria:

  • The author most likely will list their credentials such as their highest degree, university affiliation, and department.
  • The writer uses highly specialized language, specific to a discipline or area of study.
  • The work includes extensive citations, bibliographies, or footnotes, showing the author is aware of a body of scholarship relevant to the field.
  • The content has been published by an academic institution or university press, the journal is specific to a field of study or discipline.
  • The author's work is most likely "peer reviewed" or has gone through a rigorous editorial process by fellow experts in the field, which can take a long time. If you can't tell if something is peer reviewed, look up the journal or press website and see if you can find something out about the editorial process. Otherwise, you can always use a "peer review" filter in your databases search!

Remember- academic scholarship is only one type of information source. It isn't necessarily more credible or valid than other types of sources. Always be thinking critically about the author's methodologies and data analysis, and look for clear biases and political perspectives.

Let's look at the scholarly article below:

  • What can you tell about the author's credentials? How could you find out what else they have written?
  • How could you learn whether other scholar had made use of this research?
  • What can you tell about the journal and who publishes it? how could you find out more?
  • What are some of the different kinds of sources in the References list?

Think Like a Journalist

The basic rules for evaluating a source for quality are the same as the "5 W's" of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Who produced the document, image, video, sound file, etc. and what do you know about them, their credentials, their perspectives, and their motives?

What is the factual or emotional content of the source and does it reflect reality? Can you find corroborating evidence in other sources? Are any other sources cited?

When was it produced and does that time frame alter its potential usefulness or suggest contextual historical or social factors that should be considered?

Where was it published and does that publisher evaluate sources before publishing them?  Does the place of publication reflect on the competence or impartiality of the source? Does the publisher have policies regarding verification of facts, language, or cultural/political perspective you should be aware of?  Is this a re-publication and, if so, where was it originally published?

Why was the item produced and published?  To educate?  To entertain? To influence?  To sell something?  To promote the creator? To engage a community?


Identifying and Evaluating Sources

Look at the article assigned to your group. Analyze it by answering the following questions:

  • Who wrote this article and can you tell anything about their expertise?
  • Where was the article published and can you tell anything about this publication's main focus or audience? Look for an "about us" page or Google it if you aren't sure.
  • How would you describe the source (scholarly article, news source, opinion piece, review, etc.)?
  • Do you see citations, references, or links to the writer's sources? How might these support the author's arguments and help you as a researcher?


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