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Checklist for Selecting Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Sources

Does the author have authority?  Is the author an expert on the topic with an advanced degree in their field (rather than for example, a journalist writing for a news magazine)? Is s/he associated with a university or college? What else have they published? 


Is it detailed original research with an argument or conclusion? Is it an in-depth treatment of the subject (at least several pages for an article and a couple hundred pages for a book)?  Most scholarly sources have a thesis/argument and a conclusion drawn from original research, in addition to a review of earlier research.


Does it contain references? Scholarly sources include in-text citations or footnotes, as well as an extensive bibliography or list of “Works Cited.” This is not the same as a “Suggested Reading” list, which is often included at the end of course textbook chapters or encyclopedia articles -- both of which are not considered scholarly sources.


Is the vocabulary technical (subject specific)? Scholarly sources often use specialized language which assumes a basic familiarity with the topic. The tone is serious, informative and persuasive.  If the vocabulary reads like a personal reflection, a “how to do it” guide, or something to amuse or entertain, then it is probably not a scholarly source.


Are graphics included to inform rather than entertain? Most scholarly sources are primarily text, and they use graphs or charts or diagrams in order to provide information, not to catch the reader’s eye or entertain. Most scholarly journals have no advertising, or only a small number of very restricted types of ads.


Is it published by an academic/scholarly publisher? Most scholarly sources are published by a university press or scholarly professional organization (e.g., Journal of the American Medical Association).


Is it peer reviewed?  If you use the library databases for your research (e.g. EBSCOhost), you can filter your results to peer reviewed journal articles.  These articles have been screened by experts in the field prior to publishing. If you’re not sure if a book or article is peer reviewed (you may have found it somewhere other than the library databases), you can safely assume that it is so long as it follows most of the above criteria.

Are there any other clues in the database record description? When you are looking for scholarly secondary sources, avoid any books with subject headings such as “juvenile works” or “fiction” or “popular works” when you view the database record description.

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