What Is a Scholarly Source?

by Joan Whetzel

College professors often require students to write papers using scholarly sources. These sources are academic writings by educators and researchers who specialize in specific subject areas. The writers pepper the documents with specialized language and include graphs or charts to illustrate their findings. Scholarly sources are geared toward specialized audiences.

Types of Scholarly Sources

Other than professional and academic journals, scholarly sources include primary sources (statistical data and lab reports), secondary sources (literary reviews, analysis of literary, visual or performing arts and informed commentary) and tertiary sources (textbooks and reference works, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias). Some books may be deemed scholarly sources, despite the lack of peer review, because they are published by university or academic publishing houses. Articles in scholarly journals, as opposed to those in popular magazines, include footnotes, endnotes and parenthetical citations.

Peer-Reviewed Sources

Peer-reviewed sources lend authority to college-level research papers by providing credible information to back up a student writer's arguments. Peer-reviewed sources include essays and journal articles submitted to the publication by outside academics and professionals within the journal's discipline. The articles make use of results of recent research to add to multi-disciplinary discussions. These articles undergo a meticulous peer-review process to investigate whether the theories and results presented meet publishing and professional standards.

Examples of Scholarly Journals

The "Journal of Educational Research" is an example of a journal geared toward educators, and might include articles about effective literacy instruction or how to overcome poverty barriers in education. The articles might be written by veteran teachers. The "Journal of American History" is another scholarly journal and history teachers and college professors are the target audience. Articles about ancient Egyptian rituals or war time customs might be topics and would be written by history teachers or scientists such as anthropologists.

Authority, Structure, Content and Timeliness

Scholarly sources are written with authority, structure, content and timeliness in mind. Authority emanates from the credentials and expertise of the author(s), the peer-review process and the quality of the research behind the article or book. The structure of the writing in the scholarly source lends the work credence because footnotes, endnotes and parenthetical citations show where the author(s) got some of their information to back up their own research. The content of a scholarly source includes information and author expertise that is pertinent to the publication and its readership, and the author(s) conclusions are backed up by carefully documented evidence. Timeliness is demonstrated first by the date of the scholarly source and by the current nature of the information the source provides.

About the Author

Joan Whetzel has been writing professionally since 1998. She has written juvenile nonfiction, movie and television scripts and adult nonfiction. Her juvenile nonfiction has appeared in such magazines as "Tech Directions," "Connect" and "Class Act." She was part of the production team that produced the documentary "Fuel for Thought" on Houston PBS. She has also written articles for Katy Magazine Online.

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