We get a variety of email queries about writing and research, and one of the most common includes questions about sources: namely, what kinds of sources are appropriate for a thesis or dissertation, and what constitutes a “scholarly source?” Many times, a client will email us because their advisor has commented on the lack of scholarly sources; or they’re unsure about whether or not they’ve gotten adequate sources. If you’ve never written a thesis or dissertation before, you might be wondering what your instructor is referring to when she mentions “scholarly sources.” Read on to find out!
According to the library of Cornell University, a scholarly source, also often called a peer-reviewed source, is one that is written by scholars or experts in the field. These may or may not be research studies. Some examples include journal articles from academic journals, published theses or dissertations, conference publications, and certain kinds of books. Websites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are credible, but not necessarily scholarly, although they do publish scholarly articles and reports.
So what types of sources are NOT scholarly sources?
Things like newspaper or magazine articles, book reviews, advocacy or opinion-based sources, and sources that don’t contain references. Articles about scholarly topics that are written about by journalists may still be factually correct and worthwhile, but not considered scholarly sources. While these have their place in certain kinds of papers and writing, they’re typically not appropriate for a thesis or dissertation.
Most websites are not scholarly sources, including encyclopedia pages, Healthline, and especially Wikipedia. These should never be used for a thesis or dissertation.
Trade publications can be tricky. These are often magazines or journals in a specific industry or field. Examples include Library Journal, Attorney at Law Magazine, and Psychology Today. While they might seem like scholarly sources because of their specialized nature, they’re more like popular sources for the general public and aren’t appropriate to use for your research project. That being said, they still have value. They can be a great place to start to do background reading on your topic, or a general information hub to point you to scholarly sources or trends to explore further in academic journal articles.
It’s important to use scholarly sources for your thesis or dissertation in order to obtain unbiased, well-researched, trustworthy information. Peer-reviewed sources are typically the gold standard, because in order to be published, they go through a thorough review by peer experts in the field (hence the name) to insure accuracy, ethical and appropriate research methods, and value.
Where do I find scholarly sources?
Scholarly sources are typically found in databases like JSTOR, PsycINFO, ProQuest, and ScienceDirect. Your school typically provides access to these as part of your tuition and fees. While they occasionally have non-scholarly articles or reviews, most of the sources in these databases are considered scholarly sources. Google Scholar is another option, but again, you need to do your research on the journal that comes up and make sure that it’s peer-reviewed.
If you’re struggling with building your references or need feedback about the sources you currently have, we can help! We offer research services, editing, formatting, and consultations to help you develop your thesis or dissertation. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.