Academic sources (also called scholarly sources) are different from what most of us read each day. We are constantly exposed to “popular” media – news websites, TV channels, magazines and newspapers. It is generally only in college that we get exposure and access to scholarly articles and books.
An Academic Source (Scholarly Source) is material that is
- Authoritative: The article has been produced by an expert in his or her field (often this means that a person has a Ph.D. in his or her field and/or works as researcher or professor at colleges or universities), and therefore has the authority that expertise affords.
- Peer-reviewed: The article has been rigorously read and reviewed by other experts or authorities in that same field. and, only after that rigorous review,
- Published in a Scholarly Research Journal: Academic articles are often published in special journals that focus on one academic discipline or one topic of study. These articles are published for an audience who is also highly involved in that academic discipline (often other people who have Ph.D.s in the same field or are pursuing studies within it). While in recent years some freely accessible open source peer reviewed journals have begun publishing, most scholarly research journals require a paid subscription. As a college student, you have access to many academic articles because your university pays for access to academic research databases that give students and faculty members access to these scholarly research journals.
Academic articles tend to more challenging to read than popular sources. They often contain academic jargon, highly specialized vocabulary that is used within a particular academic field. They tend to be longer than a typical popular source article in a newspaper or magazine. They may contain many in-text citations, diagrams, tables, or other visual representations of data.
While academic articles can be intimidating to read, there are strategies that you can use to effectively engage these challenging texts, as Karen Rosenberg discusses in her essay, “Reading Games: Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources.”
Moreover, there are ways in which academic articles can be critiqued and evaluated just like popular articles.
Considerations for Evaluating Academic Sources
While academic sources are often deemed credible because they come out of a rigorous process of peer review-before-publication and are written both by and for the academic community, we should still take time to examine and evaluate such sources before we use them. Yes, even scholarly sources contain embedded biases.
How prolific is the author in his or her field? Has he or she written extensively on the topic that is addressed in this paper? Often you can check the Works Cited to see if the author has any previous publications on the topic addressed in the current paper. If so, that could be an indication of the author’s long term commitment to this research topic or question.
Length of the Article
Sometimes articles will be labeled in academic databases as “scholarly articles” even though they are only a couple of pages long. If your article seems rather short and does not follow the general structure of an academic article (Abstract, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusions, List of Works Cited), then you should spend time considering whether or not the article is a relevant or credible source for the purposes of your assignment? Is there a more thorough or detailed source that you could use?
Date of Publication
How current is the article? If you are looking for a historical perspective on your topic, then an older article may be useful. But if you need current information and your article is 10 or 15 years old, is it as relevant and useful for your assignment?
Perhaps you have a wonderful academic article that is authoritative, credible, interesting, full of credible and compelling research. But if the article is not answering your research question or the assignment question in any meaningful way, perhaps the source is not relevant to you. Just because a source is “good” does not mean that it is good for your particular assignment.
Joe Moxley’s article “Questions to Evaluate the Authority of the Researcher’s Methods,” is an excellent resource for thinking about how to approach a critique of scholarly work. His article can be found by clicking on the hyperlink above and by going to directly to the Writing Commons website.