You might question the need to evaluate scholarly sources like books and journal articles. They're scholarly, 'nuff said.
Well it's not that easy. While it is safe to assume that you have a higher quality source, you still need to assess these for quality, authority, and relevance to your assignment.
Scholarly sources can be biased just like any other source.
We have put together some questions to consider when selecting scholarly sources. It is all these factors combined that help you decide that a source is useful not just one or two.
Who wrote it?
Scholars can write about topics they are not experts in and they can be biased in their writing.
What is its purpose?
Scholarly sources like books and journal articles are generally published to share information and research. But that does not mean you should not verify the purpose of the author(s) and publisher.
When was it published?
Knowing when a source was created is a an indicator of how up to date the information is.
There are some disciplines and topics where having the most current information is important and required. Other disciplines and topics are more flexible about how current your sources need to be.
How do you know what topics require the most current information?
What is considered current in scholarly sources?
Because scholarly sources take longer to produce, current does not mean published this year or even last year.
3-5 years old is typically a good window for selecting journal articles, though your professor may set specific guidelines for how old the sources can be. No more than 8 years old is a good window for books.
It will also depending upon the type of information that the source provides. If you are using it for background or historical information then you can be more flexible about how old it is, but know that it will not provide history past a certain point.
For disciplines where there is more flexibility in how current sources need to be, you should still consider how old the information is as many disciplines like history, English, art history, etc., have changed in their methodology over time. These disciplines have become more objective in the 20th and 21st centuries and the sources produced are better quality as a result.
What type of information does it provide?
Look beyond the title of the source to find out more about the source and the information it provides.
There are different types of articles within scholarly and peer-reviewed journals. Book reviews, letters, and comments can be found within these journals and while they come up in your search results as scholarly, they are not subject to the same review process and are not necessarily always good sources for your topic.
Books vary in purpose and content. Some are general works like textbooks, Opposing Viewpoints books and encyclopedias and handbooks that present a general overview of a topic or issue. Others are more focused on presenting an argument and/or research about a topic. Some may be eligible as sources, others may not, it will depend upon your professor's assignment.
So think about the following questions:
How does it relate to your topic?
Once you've determined what type of information it provides, you then need to consider how it relates to your research topic.
The goal when selecting sources is not to find sources that only reflect exactly the argument you are trying to make. You are looking for sources that provide the information that will provide evidence for the various points that support your argument.
Check out the video below for more information on finding relevant sources.
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