Answered By: Beth Ashmore
Last Updated: Sep 16, 2020     Views: 1403

These clues will help you tell the difference between books intended for a scholarly audience preferred when writing research papers) and trade publications/mass market publications that are intended for a general audience. 

1.    Book Reviews – a very good place to start when evaluating the scholarship of a book.  Locate book reviews on your book by entering the book title into MultiSearch on the library homepage. 

2.     Search WorldCat which contains the catalogs of thousands of libraries around the world as a kind of citation index by looking at the number of libraries that own the item.  If many libraries own it, it’s more likely to be well respected in the field.  This is not a certainty – it is more a “weighs in favor of”.  Looking at who owns the item can also be a clue as to its respectability that is, if mostly academic libraries own the item, it’s probably more scholarly than if mostly public libraries own it.

3.     Use Google Scholar to find book reviews and comments on your title.  Articles are from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.

Furthermore, examine these elements of a published book:

  • Publisher - A good clue to a scholarly resource is its publisher. 
    • Books from publishers specializing in the field will tend to be of better quality textually then those that don’t.
    • An examination of the publisher’s Web site can be extremely valuable in discovering the type of material predominantly published by them.  Look for “About” and a “Mission Statement”
    • Consider how long they’ve been in business? Do they provide services to academia?
    • Check the publisher’s organizational or denominational affiliation with Writer’s Market, Literary Market Place and Christian Writers' Market Guide
    •  Books published by a university press will tend to be more academically sound than those published by trade publishers. For example, if a book on education is published by Harvard Univ. Press, what kind of reputation does Harvard have in its school of education--does it even have a school of education? If so, it is probably trustworthy, all the more if their school of education has a very high reputation in itself.
  • Author/creator - One means of identifying reputable author is to investigate his/her AUTHORITY with regard to the subject being published.
    • What are his/her credentials that give him/her authority to speak on the topic?  Is his/her educational background and/or life experience consistent with the topic of the work? To do this you will need to get some background information on the author: biographical, educational, professional experience and affiliations.   It is very likely the author will have a Web site, blog, Facebook account etc. These can be helpful sources of background information on the author as can the Web site of the institution or organization where s/he is employed.
    • Find out if s/he is recognized by other scholars in the field.  This is can be ascertained by word-of-mouth; talking to scholars in the field; experience in research and in the field.  But you can also do this by tracking the references cited in each resource that you find. This involves the systematic application of the research strategy “using sources to find others sources”.  In academia it is a generally accepted principle that the more often a work is cited the more reputable it is.  Knowing the frequency of works cited can help determine which ones are considered to be more valuable.  Tracing references cited is not only a good way to ascertain the reputation of an author or a work, it is also an excellent means of arriving at the original primary text. Again keep in mind the reliability of an author or a work based only on citation frequency is NOT an absolute certainty -- it still requires critical thinking on your part; evaluate the original work and verify the accuracy of quotes and references.
    •  Cited References and Bibliography –  Cited references are an excellent indication of the scholarship of a work.  Look for cited references or at least a bibliography in the work itself.  Most books intended for a scholarly audience contain citations and a bibliography, while books intended for a general audience do not.  Also, consider who is being cited. Are the cited sources primary sources? How frequently are the cited references cited elsewhere? Has any one cited the work being evaluated and is this perhaps the primary source?

4.     Content – examine these aspects of the work to assist in evaluating the scholarship of a work:

  • Accuracy:  how does the information compare with other works on the subject?
  • Biases:  all authors are biased, but scholarly works tend to reflect the results of research in the field and not propagandize.
  • Preface, Introduction, Table of Contents, Conclusion and Index:  most scholarly works will have several, if not all, of these components. Consider also how well the author lives up to his/her claims indicated in the preface, introduction and conclusion.
  • Audience appropriate: a scholarly work will be written to those with some knowledge of or ability to understand the topic under discussion. 
  • Graphics, Charts, Illustrations, etc.:  many scholarly works will have graphs, charts, illustrations, etc.

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