Using Scholarly Resources in Your Writing
Monday, September 08, 2014 Using Evidence
Chances are you have encountered an assignment where the professor asked you to find and use scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles. Scholarly resources are publications by researchers based on their studies. Peer-reviewed journal articles are one particular kind of scholarly resource, and these articles are often the most important kinds of publications to cite for academic writing.
Scholarly resources are an important standard of
information for your papers and capstone studies. They constitute the work of a
community of scholars who research and discuss topics in your field. These
researchers form the core of scholarly communication, which is made up of all
the ways that researchers share the findings of their research and collectively
build knowledge in their field. This blog post discusses why these sources are
important for your academic work and how you can find and use scholarly
resources in your writing.
|Why it's important to evaluate your sources. Image from themetapicture.com.|
Scholarly Expertise and Research Literature
Scholarly resources include specialized reference materials, books, and peer-reviewed articles. The authors of these sources are experts in their fields. Their writings draw on primary and secondary research in their fields of study. Through their writings, especially in the way they frame their research and in their literature reviews, these authors/researchers participate in ongoing discussions about their research topic. Thus, researchers belong to a scholarly community, and their work engages other researchers' work as a way of demonstrating expertise.
One of the main reasons to rely on scholarly resources is that you can expect most of the authors to be experts in the field who have conducted research on the topic of their publications. In contrast, many online sources you might find on a topic are often written by journalists or other people who have read about the research topic but have not conducted research themselves.
Another important reason to turn to scholarly resources in academic writing is that you can expect the authors of those publications to engage other researchers in discussing their studies. Scholarly resources, therefore, will always include a reference list that directs you to other research in the field. You can expect scholarly resources to be part of a scholarly conversation rather than just a single voice disconnected from other research on the topic.
Finally, many (but not all) scholarly resources undergo a process of peer review, which helps to ensure the quality of research documented in the publication. Before researchers can publish a peer-reviewed article, they send their completed manuscript to a journal. The journals editors (often senior scholars in the field) then read the article to decide if it is a worthwhile contribution to the scholarly literature. If the article passes this first level of review, the editors send the article to the authors' peers (other scholars in the field) who can judge the merits of the manuscript. The peers then provide feedback on the article and either endorse its publication or not. This peer review is thus a way to maintain quality and identify important work for publication.
There are, of course, many types of scholarly resources and varying levels of quality between resources. Understanding how to find a scholarly resource rather than a nonscholarly resource is an important step in making sure that you have the best resources cited in your papers and capstone studies. However, you should also consider the overall credibility and usefulness of the resource that you have found.
Some of your professors might have told you not to use Wikipedia or other open websites in your course papers because the information you find online is not necessarily reliable. This warning is about evaluating resources or judging their quality. There are a few different approaches to evaluating resources, but generally you should consider the following criteria:
- Author: Note the authors of the resource and their expertise (educational or work qualifications) about the topic.
- Publisher: Look at the journal or book publisher that published the resource and think about its reputation.
- Type of information: Make sure you are looking at the right type of information (scholarly, governmental, popular journalistic, etc.)
- Purpose: Read the resource carefully to determine its purpose (to inform, to refute, to support, etc.) and potential underlying agendas.
- Sources: Look at the citations and reference list in the resource to understand what kind of evidence the authors use to build their argument.
- Currency: Consider when the resource was published and how up-to-date its research is. In some fields, older publications are fine, but in most social science fields, you should rely primarily on scholarly resources published in the last 5 years to make sure that you are not relying on out-dated or disproved models.
- Style: Think about the writing style to understand how the authors are conveying their points and who their audience is.
For additional information on using scholarly sources in your writing, check out the following resources and video:
How do I find scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles?
PRACTICE: For the next 10 minutes, think and write about why using scholarly resources in your writing is important. Why does it matter to you? Why does it matter to your readers? Does questioning a source in a piece of writing change your experience as a reader? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Paul Lai is a dissertation editor and the web content coordinator at the Walden Writing Center. Paul (shown here with Giles) has 10 years of experience teaching college English. He has also worked in academic publishing and as an editor for scholarly journal issues and literary magazines.