Library:Scholarly versus Popular Sources/Caution

From UBC Wiki


Some publications have many characteristics of a scholarly work but are not typically peer-reviewed. These can be valuable sources for your research but note - the extent to which a particular work would benefit (i.e., be more accurate, valid, balanced, useful etc.) from formal scrutiny is not always clear to a non-expert. For this reason you should be cautious about using a majority of non-refereed sources for your research.

  • Government documents: A vast array of publications are produced by government bodies.
    • Some of these - particularly technical data, departmental/agency research reports, scientific assessment reports, statistics etc. - while not peer-reviewed - are produced by subject experts and have most of the characteristics of a scholarly publication.
    • Other government publications, such as consumer fact sheets, MP briefing notes, white papers, Royal Commission reports, trade/industry publications, etc. are written for a general audience and cannot be considered "scholarly" in nature even if they are useful in terms of providing context or background knowledge on a topic.
    • You will have to assess each government publication you wish to use to ensure that it is appropriate source material for your purposes.
  • Conference proceedings: Are compilations of papers presented at conferences. These papers are sometimes the base material for future refereed publications, sometimes have already been peer-reviewed and sometimes never appear again after the conference.
    • You will need to check the status of any material you find in a collection of conference proceedings to ensure that it is suitable for your research.
    • Ways to check if such materials are scholarly or not include: consulting the preface to the collection, checking the conference website, contacting the presenter directly or asking your instructor for advice.
  • Theses & Dissertations: While subject to rigorous review, theses and dissertations are not universally considered to have been peer-reviewed. Check with your instructor to determine if these are acceptable sources for your research.
  • Books from academic/university presses: If a book's editorial board is not comprised of subject experts it cannot be considered peer-reviewed, yet it may still be a very useful source. Ask yourself: is the author an expert in the field? Does the book have all the other criteria of a scholarly publication besides being peer-reviewed? If yes to both - the book will likely be a useful addition to your collection of (mostly refereed) research sources.