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Historical Research

A general guide to historical research

How to identify scholarly from non-scholarly works

What makes a book, book chapter, or journal article scholarly?

  • They are written by experts such as researchers, professionals, and professors to present their research and analysis.  These works contribute to scholarship in a particular field or discipline and become part of the scholarly conversation with their peers.
  • Typically, for books, they are published by an academic press.  For example, this would include publishers like Oxford University Press, Sage Publishing, Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, and Harvard University Press.

  • Scholarly articles are published in scholarly journals and are often peer reviewed.  These publishers are often university presses, scholarly associations, or academic publishers such as Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer Nature, Sage Publications, Cambridge University Press, University of Chicago Press, and the Southern Historical Association
  • The author's credentials are typically listed.
  • The author cites their sources using in-text citations, footnotes, or endnotes and references them in a reference list or bibliography.  

What makes a source non-scholarly?

  • Sources that could resemble scholarly sources but are not scholarly include trade journals, magazines, and newspapers.  It is important to keep in mind, however, that even though a source may not be scholarly doesn't mean that it is not a useful source.  For instance, historians often rely on historical newspapers as a primary source for their research.  These non-scholarly sources could help provide you with contextual information as well.
  • Professional or trade journals are typically written by practicing professionals and discuss trends in a particular field.
  • Popular magazines such as TIME and National Geographic and newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post may be reputable and well-regarded but they are not scholarly sources.
  • Works of fiction such as novels, novellas, and short stories are also not scholarly sources.

Reference: Scholarly Sources: A Sequenced Tutorial, Oakland University Libraries