Finding Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources are ones which are written by and for people who study and teach about a particular topic. They are often difficult to read, as they frequently use "jargon" that may be unfamiliar to the general public. Scholarly sources are usually unaccompanied by advertisements and they use only graphs, charts, and informative drawings or images as illustrations.

Characteristics of Scholarly Sources

A scholarly source is one that meets the following criteria:
Are the author or authors identified?
Do they have scholarly credentials, or credentials within the appropriate field of expertise?
Do the authors cite the works from which they drew inspiration and/or information?
Do illustrations relay vital information (charts, etc.), rather than simply making the article or book more attractive?
Is the intended audience a group of scholars or a group of people who have expertise in a particular trade or profession?
Is the language is specific to the discipline or intended for large audiences?

Finally, don't think that sources which are not scholarly are therefore not useful, valuable, or correct. For instance, an advertising industry trade magazine with an article on the marketing of beer to minors may be appropriate for a class in mass communication or marketing, but it would be inappropriate as a source for a paper on the biological effects of alcohol on underage drinkers.

Likewise, a peer-reviewed medical journal article on the physiological effects of beer on minors will not be useful in analyzing the messages portrayed in a beer commercial, nor will it be useful in determining the effectiveness of a beer company's marketing campaign which has proven attractive to teens.

What's a Peer-Reviewed Source?

Scholarly journals often seek to ensure the quality of the articles they publish by requiring submissions to pass through a rigorous peer review process. This means that articles published in scholarly journals have been written by scholars and then read and approved by colleagues in that field of study, who have determined that the writing and research meet the minimum standards for the publication and the profession.

By comparison, news magazines and non-scholarly journals usually have staff writers who submit their work to editors, thus removing some of the scholarly characteristics of the process. However, journals do not have to identify themselves as "peer reviewed" in order to be scholarly, and not all of the material found in peer-reviewed journals qualifies as a "scholarly source" (letters to the editor, book reviews, etc.).

EBSCOhost databases generally allow you to limit your searches to just peer-reviewed sources. This is a good way to ensure that you are not going to get results from trade journals and news magazines such as Advertising Age or Newsweek.

Types of Sources

Primary Sources
Original materials which have not been interpreted or condensed. They represent original observations or documentation of occurrences.
Primary sources include statistical data, lab reports, new research in the natural or behavioral sciences, historical documents and newspaper articles, diaries, letters, and works of literature and art.
Secondary Sources
These sources examine, analyze, or work with primary sources and other secondary sources. They often take primary source data and modify, select, or arrange the material for a specific audience. Often, they try to represent material in a certain light for rhetorical purpoases.
Secondary sources can be literature reviews, analysis of works in the literary, visual, or performing arts, and informed commentary. Much of what is found in Academic Search Premier would be classified as a secondary source.
Tertiary Sources
These provide information collected from primary and secondary sources and provide them in an easy-to-digest format. One reads a tertiary source when one needs a basic understanding of a topic. For instance, if you need to write a paper about Julius Caesar but you know nothing about him, you might want to start by reading the entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Tertiary sources include introductory textbooks and most reference works, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, fact-books, almanacs, handbooks, and some travel guides. Wikipedia is also a tertiary source, as it is a unique online encyclopedia in which any user can edit the articles on that site.