Scholarly materials are necessary for college-level research in History and Humanities. The following discusses the features to look for in determining whether a source is scholarly. Of course, when in doubt, ask your instructor or contact Judith Downie, Humanities Librarian.

General Guidelines
Books
Journal Articles
Internet Sources
 

General Guidelines

Scholarly sources can be generally be identified by several features:

  1. Content (topic being discussed)
  2. Audience (for the layperson or someone familiar with the research in the subject?)
  3. Language (higher level language and discipline-specific terminology)
  4. Intent (case study, report of experimental results...)
  5. Authorship (qualifications of author to write on the topic, usually an advanced degree with years of experience and research on the topic)
  6. Peer-review (material is evaluated by experts and only published if meets the discipline's standards)
  7. References (other materials used in the research process are listed in a bibliography or footnotes)
  8. Listing (check Ulrich's in the Research Databases to see if the publication is listed as refereed)

You may also have the actual item in hand, rather than an electronic version, which helps in making your determination. A first hint is that if the publication is glossy paper with lots of pictures, it is likely to NOT be scholarly.  (Example: National Geographic is NOT scholarly although the writer may be an experienced researcher in the subject--the language is not for the researcher's peers, the content is for a generalist audience, there are no bibliographies, and the editorial review is by general editors, not scholars in the discipline.)

 

Books

In addition to the general guidelines, there are some other helpful features to look for in books:

Book publishers can be a means of determining scholarly value. University presses (Harvard University Press, University of California, etc.) have high standards and reputations to uphold, so publish scholarly and well-researched titles.

Edited material: the entire work was assembled by one or more editors with contributions from other authors. In this case, the editors act as a review committee and make sure the contributors are factual and accurate. If the material is controversial, theoretical, or still under investigation, an editorial note to that effect is likely to be found in the introduction to the book or entry.

Keep in mind the library's collection has been purchased with the goal of supporting classes and research at CSUSM. The librarians work with faculty and professional resources to select the best from the thousands of books, journals and electronic resources published every year. This gets rid of a large amount of junk or lesser-quality materials in order to bring you the best. This is a more focused and evaluated collection that jumping into the Internet, so why not start with your library catalog for resources?

 

Journal Articles

Journal articles can be harder to determine the scholarly intent in some ways because most articles are located through the use of the research databases, so you don't have the publisher information or visual clues from the paper version. Use the general guidelines above and when in doubt, ask your instructor or the librarian!

 

Internet Sources

With all the material available on the Internet, one would expect to find scholarly material quite easily. In the case of a search for scholarly material, the researcher must beware! There is good material out there, but how do you know if it is good or not? You won't, without doing research in reputable books and journals first, to gain knowledge of the authors, scholarly discussions, and terminology in the field you are researching.