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 info@dissertation-editor.com to learn more.
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Dr. Roda and his team at D.E. are the editors for my academic writing. My story with Dr. Roda is that I am a clinical assistant professor at a medical school. To move my career forward I am writing to increase the quantity and quality of my published scholarship. Because my appointment is clinical, all these efforts are on my own time and I have no secretarial help. In these circumstances DE has been supportive in the most essential way. They are available to help with all phases of my writing projects, starting with choosing the best journal, editing drafts, in house peer-review, formatting the citations to those exact specifications, from the latest edition of the APA Publication Manual or the Turabian manual. Finally, they are helpful as I must revise and answer the reviewers in subsequent revisions. For a physician without any administrative resources, DE has helped fill-in all those gaps. Presently, we are working on my second big writing project with DE editors. My first paper with DE as my editors was accepted by the first journal by all the reviewers on the first submission without any recommended editorial changes. As author with more than five years of work with DE editors, I anticipate continued success with these competant and helpful editors.

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