Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Sep 16, 2022     Views: 31019

It depends.  Just as periodicals can be scholarly or popular, books are also published with different audiences and purposes. 

Popular books are written for a general audience and are usually intended to entertain, advise or persuade.  Scholarly books are written for scholars/researchers in the author's field, and are typically intended to share research findings and contribute to the ongoing scholarly "conversation."  They might also be intended to teach new scholars in the field -- students just like you!  If you look inside a book, you will see some clues.

Clues that you've found a scholarly book:


check mark icon     References.  One of the quickest things to check for:  a list of cited sources (articles, books, reports, etc. that the author referred to throughout the text) at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book
check mark icon     Discipline-specific language Because scholarly books are written by experts for experts, the author will be using the specialized terminology of his/her field (and often won't stop to define these words and phrases, as  the intended readers will know them already).  Scholarly books will also be written in a formal tone, as they are intended to be a professional, lasting contribution to the literature.
check mark icon     Expert author Scholarly books are written by people with advanced degrees in their field (M.S., Ph.D., etc.), and typically with years of experience working with the subject that they're writing about.  How can you find out?  Google them!  Many researchers will be associated with a university, government agency or other institution -- see if you can find a webpage for the book's author that ties her to her credentials and experience.  Read more.
check mark icon     A well-respected publisher.  A university press, for example Columbia University Press, is usually a safe bet, as each university wants to ensure that the books published under its name are of high quality.  They also frequently publish the work of their faculty, who will be experts in their field and who do research as part of their jobs.   There are lots of other publishers out there, too -- as you come across scholarly books in your classes, pay attention to publisher names.   You'll soon be familiar with the major publishers of scholarly books in your discipline.
check mark icon     An editor Sometimes, you'll notice that each chapter is written by different authors.  In this case, one or more editors are listed on the book's cover and copyright page.  The editor has the important job of ensuring that each chapter was written to the publisher's standards -- this is a good sign of quality control!   (But, remember that not all scholarly books will have an editor or multiple authors!)


See also:  How do I search for books in the APUS Library?

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