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HC Libraries 101

Created by our Peer Research Consultants!

Did your professor ask you to use Academic, Scholarly, or Peer Reviewed Sources for an assignment? All of these terms mean the same thing!

Your best bet for finding this kind of resource is by using Holy Cross's databases, or another academic search engine like Google Scholar. This doesn't mean that sources from newspapers or other popular media are unhelpful, but you should check with your professor before using them. Click through the following tabs to explore how to decide if a source is scholarly or popular, and if it will be helpful for your research!

Understanding & Choosing Sources of Information

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources:

popular resource is a resource for 'popular' consumption -- it has been written so that most people can easily read and understand it. This might include newspapers or magazines, some books, and some journals written for people in specific jobs. While there is usually an editor who checks these sources for good writing and for errors, this is mostly done by a single person rather than a group. Popular articles are usually written by journalists or professional writers, although sometimes they are written by experts on a specific topic. 

Scholarly sources are written by experts on a particular subject (for example, a professor or other researcher). They also go through an extra process of review and approval by a group of other experts before they can be published. Usually, scholarly articles are written in 'academic-ese' and designed to be read by other scholars. You will probably find yourself using many scholarly sources in your other Holy Cross classes. However, because scholarly sources take a long time to be approved and published, they are not good sources for current news. You can explore the parts of a scholarly article through an interactive diagram created by the NC State Libraries

How can you tell if you have a scholarly article in your hand? 
The chart below compares the characteristics of scholarly vs. popular (non-scholarly) sources:  Handout version of popular vs. scholarly source chart; click to enlarge

AUTHOR Usually staff writers and/or journalists Experts on the topic -- usually researchers, scholars and/or professors
AUDIENCE General public (for "popular" consumption) Other experts (and students) in the field
EDITING & REVIEW Editor(s); generally concerned with grammar, style, etc., with some fact-checking Other experts ("peer reviewed"); generally concerned with quality, thoroughness of research, strength of argument, etc. 

Reasonably brief, typically uses colloquial if not informal language. Often illustrated with graphics, sidebars and other aesthetic elements. Sometimes accompanied by ads.

More extensive in length; tends to be more formal and uses specialized vocabulary. Illustrations and charts are used only when furthering content. 
GOAL or PURPOSE To entertain; and/or, to share general information To share findings, advance and argument and/or engage with other scholars
SOURCES Few or none; if sources are used, there may not be formal citations.  Typically uses many sources, cited in detailed bibliographies, footnotes and/or endnotes
EXAMPLES Time Magazine; Sports Illustrated; New Yorker; Boston Globe Annual Review of Political Science; American Historical Review; Sociology of Education

What Kind of Source Do You Have?

Notice the CONTENT: Who's writing? What about?  How is it presented? 
Notice the AESTHETICS:  Pictures? How dense is  the text? What tone does the design invoke? 
ASK: Is it for entertainment, or study?  Do you think you can trust it? Would you use it for a paper? 

and don't forget to consider...

is the source RELEVANT to what you are trying to accomplish?

Some other questions that might help when

Examining a Source:


 Who is the author?

 How is the author qualified?

 Is the author an expert?

 What is the author's bias? (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated -- but there is almost always some bias!))


 What is the source? Is it a research report? An entertainment piece? An opinion essay? 

 What does this tell you about the source's audience, purpose, and potential bias(es) or shortcoming(s)? 


 Is the source recent (or, if digital, regularly updated)?  When was it published? 

 Is there any information which seems out-of-date? 


 Who hosts the site? OR Who publishes this resource?

 Does the host/publisher have bias?  (Remember that a bias may not be directly stated.)

 What is the domain extension?

The publisher and/or domain can help you determine a website's origin. For example, .gov is the domain for United States government sites and .edu is for US Educational institutions. Note that not all .com sites are unreliable and not all .org sites are reputable -- .org simply means that the website is for a non-profit group.  This can include everything from charities, to libraries, to hate groups. 


 What is the purpose and audience of the source?

 What is the benefit, and/or who benefits, if this source reaches and/or successfully convinces readers? 


 By what means was this source created? 

 Does the resource provide its sources?

 Does it refer/link you to other credible sources?

 Can you determine whether the information came from, and whether the original source/info is represented accurately?