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Research in the Social Sciences

A detailed guide on how to do research in the social sciences.

My Professor Wants "Scholarly Sources." What Does That Mean?

Generally speaking, when someone says "scholarly," they mean material that is:

  • Written by a holder of an advanced degree in the subject;
  • Written for purposes of education and study;
  • Thoroughly-researched and in conversation with the work of other scholars;
  • Aimed at an audience of undergraduate college level or above.

Is it always easy to tell if something is scholarly?

  • No! Sometimes there isn't a clear-cut answer.

What do I do if I can't tell?

  • Ask a reference librarian!
  • Ask your professor!

Identifying Academic Sources

How Do I Find Scholarly Sources?

Books:

  • Start by searching in the Library catalog. Most (though not all) of the books you'll find here will be scholarly.
  • Other college libraries will also tend to have more scholarly collections than not.
  • Avoid looking for books in public libraries unless absolutely necessary. The chances that these will be scholarly are much lower!
  • If you've found a book in WorldCat, in addition to the criteria listed to the right, try checking the list of libraries that hold the item. Are most of them college libraries, or public?

Journals:

  • The absolute best way to look for scholarly journals is to search only PEER-REVIEWED journals!
  • When you're searching our electronic databases, there may be an option available to limit your results to peer-reviewed articles.

Searching for Academic Sources

Are Websites Ever Scholarly?

That depends on what you mean by "website."

If you mean an open web page that you reached by typing in a URL or searching Google, definitely not. These pages may have useful and accurate information, but if your professor has specifically requested scholarly sources, these pages won't satisfy that requirement.

On the other hand, if you mean any resource that's available via an internet connection, that's a different story. Kistler Library offers electronic resources that contain some or all materials that would definitely be considered scholarly.

Here are a few examples:

  • Many of our Electronic Databases contain journal articles that are scholarly, whether you access them online or in print. Try limiting your results to peer-reviewed articles when searching them.
  • The e-books we have available through EBSCOhost, the Humanities E-Book Project, and the Cambridge Histories Online are more or less all scholarly publications.
  • Depending on which article you use and your professor's requirements, the reference works in Credo Reference may also count as scholarly publications. You should check with your professor before using them, though, just to make sure.
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