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SUNY Geneseo Fraser Hall Library Subject Guides


HUMN 220: Western Humanities 1 (Brubaker): Evaluating sources

Scholarly vs. Not Scholarly

Scholarly sources usually refer to sources created by scholars in a scholarly manner. Typically, this means that the article or book has gone through some variation of Peer Review and/or editing, in order to catch mistakes. It also assumes that the author has relevant expertise in the field they are writing in.

Figuring out if something is scholarly can be tricky, but there are a couple of rules that you can keep in mind:

  • Scholarly articles are longer than 2 pages
    • It's really difficult to write an appropriately rigorous paper in a couple of pages. Look for the longer articles.
  • Scholarly articles come from journals
    • Look for "the journal of" or names of associations. Also ask your professor or a librarian.
    • Generally, catchy or fun titles indicate something that is not scholarly, though there are a few exceptions.
  • Scholarly articles often have multiple authors
    • This is not always the case, but if you are looking at multiple authors it is very often a sign of higher levels of work.
  • Scholarly books tend to come from University Presses or well known educational publishing houses.

There's no one easy way to figure this out, but keeping these general guidelines in mind can help. Many databases in the library also have an option to select only Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed items, so that is an excellent short cut.

Primary Vs. Secondary

Primary Sources are produced close to the event or person in question, from someone who has personally participated in or witnessed the thing they are writing about.

Secondary Sources are produced farther from the event or person in question, working from other people's information or writing after a large amount of time has passed.

These definitions can be tricky: often whether something is a Primary or Secondary source can depend on your topic, and sources can switch back and forth. It's often worth consulting with your professor or a librarian to determine whether something qualifies as one or the other.