Monday, September 28, 2009

What makes scholarly sources scholarly?

Often, you will be asked to use scholarly sources for your papers and projects. Many of the Library's databases consist entirely of scholarly articles, for instance, JSTOR, ScienceDirect, PsycArticles, SocIndex, and Medline. Nearly all the other databases have an option on the search screen to limit your search to all scholarly (all peer reviewed) results.

But what is it about a book or an article that makes it scholarly?

"Scholarly research" boils down to a system for verifying facts and logic. It's a set of checks and balances to prevent errors, nonsense, and lies, from being passed off as good information. A scholarly researcher first learns the ideas and findings of others in the field. The researcher then develops a hypothesis and designs and implements a methodology to prove or disprove that hypothesis.

Scholarly also means "by scholars and intended to be read by other scholars." Popular sources have articles that are intended to be interesting and comprehensible for as many people as possible. They have to leave out some details and simplify others. Scholarly sources have more detailed, advanced, sophisticated information. And it's closer to the source, not translated for you by another non-expert.

In the peer review process, an article being considered for publication is inspected by two or more other subject area experts. They question whether the author did enough background research, used a solid methodology, collected data properly, and interpreted statistics accurately. They look for logic flaws, signs of bias or agenda, outdated or discredited information, and more. The article may be rejected; if it is accepted, the author must fix all the problems before it can be published. Scholarly books (also called monographs) are not peer reviewed, but subject expert editors perform the same function.

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