Scholarly Sources and other Key Definitions

What is an academic source? It is a peer-reviewed article or monograph (book) written by a scholar of the subject.

What does peer-reviewed mean? It means that the scholar’s peers have reviewed the work. A scholar who researches youth movements in Argentina in the 1970s would be an appropriate peer to review research on rock music and protest in Argentina in the 1970s. Such a scholar is equipped to find errors in the research because they know that field of research. A scholar of slavery in America in the 1860s, although still a scholar, is not equipped to evaluate the research on Argentina. All peer-reviewed articles are vetted by scholars before they are published so that when they are published, researchers can trust that the work is original and trustworthy. Go here for a visual representation of this process.

How do you find peer-reviewed sources?

Begin with doing a search of your library’s catalogue (this will find books) and then of your library’s databases (this will find articles).

Most articles that are longer than 7 pages and are found on one of the academic databases (JSTOR, Erudit, Repere, Academic Search Premier) will be peer-reviewed. Dawson Students can find them here under the articles tab.

Most peer-reviewed books are published by the academic presses: Routledge, Duke UP, Cambridge UP, or any other UP (University Press). You’ll also know that they are academic because they’ll have an extensive bibliography, they will usually have an index, and they might even have a section called “Notes.” Flip to the back of the book to find out.

Anything else? Useful sources will be no more than 10 or 15 years old unless they are the original source that all subsequent sources cite. Marx, Freud, Simone de Beauvoir: those folks published a long time ago, but we keep citing them. You’ll want to too.


But wait, my peer-reviewed article is only two pages long! Why? Because it’s probably a book review. Unlike a peer-reviewed article, a Review is usually a Book Review, or a Film Review. These short pieces are written by experts in the field about a recently published work. They don’t typically count as academic sources, but they can tell you how well a book was received by the scholarly community and it will also usually feature a short summary of the book in question so it can be a good source for trying to find out whether or not a book will be useful for a research project.

Can I use a textbook?  One would think these were academic sources because they are written by academics, but they are not considered scholarly because they are written for a general audience and their aim is to simplify a field of research. They do not count as academic sources because they are too general.

Are difficult articles in The Economist or The New York Times scholarly? Even if those articles were written by scholars, they are not considered scholarly articles because they have not been through the peer-review process. Generally speaking, articles from publications such as The New York Times will fall under the category of primary sources. This isn’t to say they can’t be used, or that they aren’t great sources of information–they are! The vast majority will be either articles published by scholarly journals or monographs (books) published by academic presses that are usually supported by a university. Examples include Duke University Press, Cambridge University Press, McGill-Queens, etc.

Who is a scholar? Perhaps the simplest definition of a scholar could be an individual who has published within the peer-review system. Usually such people have advanced degrees–at least a Masters, and usually a PhD.

Disciplines are different fields of research and each field has different expectations, types of study, and customs. (Think about how different your English classes are from your History classes–in English, you use MLA citations; in History, you might use Chicago style).




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