“Popular” vs. “Scholarly” Sources
Research-based writing assignments in college will often require that you use scholarly sources in the essay. Different from the types of articles found in newspapers or general-interest magazines, scholarly sources have a few distinguishing characteristics.
|Popular Source||Scholarly Source|
|Intended Audience||Broad: readers are not expected to know much about the topic already||Narrow: readers are expected to be familiar with the topic before-hand|
|Author||Journalist: may have a broad area of specialization (war correspondent, media critic)||Subject Matter Expert: often has a degree in the subject and/or extensive experience on the topic|
|Research||Includes quotes from interviews. No bibliography.||Includes summaries, paraphrases, and quotations from previous writing done on the subject. Footnotes and citations. Ends with bibliography.|
|Publication Standards||Article is reviewed by editor and proofreader||Article has gone through a peer-review process, where experts on the field have given input before publication|
Where to Find Scholarly Sources
The first step in finding scholarly resources is to look in the right place. Sites like Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia may be good for popular sources, but if you want something you can cite in a scholarly paper, you need to find it from a scholarly database.
Two common scholarly databases are Academic Search Premier and ProQuest, though many others are also available that focus on specific topics. Your school library pays to subscribe to these databases, to make them available for you to use as a student.
You have another incredible resource at your fingertips: your college’s librarians! For help locating resources, you will find that librarians are extremely knowledgeable and may help you uncover sources you would never have found on your own—maybe your school has a microfilm collection, an extensive genealogy database, or access to another library’s catalog. You will not know unless you utilize the valuable skills available to you, so be sure to find out how to get in touch with a research librarian for support!
Primary and Secondary Sources
A primary source is an original document. Primary sources can come in many different forms. In an English paper, a primary source might be the poem, play, or novel you are studying. In a history paper, it may be a historical document such as a letter, a journal, a map, the transcription of a news broadcast, or the original results of a study conducted during the time period under review. If you conduct your own field research, such as surveys, interviews, or experiments, your results would also be considered a primary source. Primary sources are valuable because they provide the researcher with the information closest to the time period or topic at hand. They also allow the writer to conduct an original analysis of the source and to draw new conclusions.
Secondary sources, by contrast, are books and articles that analyze primary sources. They are valuable because they provide other scholars’ perspectives on primary sources. You can also analyze them to see if you agree with their conclusions or not.
Most essays will use a combination of primary and secondary sources.