English 101 | Unit 6

Scholarly Sources in Research

Unit 6 | Scholarly Sources

Unit 6 | Overview: Scholarly Sources

Welcome to Unit 6!

(In case I say "Unit 5" in the video, it's because I filmed the video before I renumbered the units)


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Overview of Concepts

Scholarly sources are often the most difficult sources both to find and to use. They are longer that most primary and secondary sources, and they tend to be written in dense academic language. Because of this, many writers avoid using them, and that can significantly impact the quality of research. In this unit, you'll learn two key aspects of scholarly sources:

  • Peer Review: a scholarly source must go through an academic peer review process where experts in the field determine that the research is sound.

  • Editorial Process and Self-Publication do not produce scholarly sources, but they can sometimes look like scholarly sources. We'll talk about how to tell the difference.

As writers and researchers, you must be able to differentiate scholarly sources from sources that only appear to be scholarly.

Unit Objectives

By the end of this unit, you’ll find three scholarly sources that relate to your topic to write an article. As in prior weeks, you'll share these sources to the discussions, explain how each one will help your work, and then provide feedback for your classmates. With this sources, you'll be delving deeper into the forces behind your topic — the theories, social contexts, or other unseen circumstances that may be affecting the story you've told in prior articles. Your article will again be 400 words with at least three scholarly sources in the works cited.


Unit 6 | Lecture: The Challenge of Secondary Sources

The Challenge of Scholarly Sources

In every class I’ve ever taught, scholarly sources provide the most difficult research challenge for most students. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Scholarly Sources can be hard to read. I’ll be the first to admit that many scholarly sources are dull. They’re often boring. And the sentences might be so complicated that they’re hard to read. And then the scientific articles may include charts, statistics, and math. I teach English — ergo, my brain is allergic to math.*

  • Scholarly Sources can be hard to find. Because they’re published in academic journals, many scholarly sources can only be found through a college or university library. On the other hand, some journals are published online for free, and medical studies that receive federal funding are required to be. It really depends on your topic.

  • Books are often mistaken for scholarly sources. Although printed books are normally excellent sources, most books are not scholarly.

  • Google makes all other sources easy to find. Sure, you have Google Scholar. But really, when normal Google can give you 25,000,000 sources, who needs scholarly sources? Or even books, for that matter? I get everything I need from the open web!**

  • Many high school courses don’t require scholarly sources for your papers. High school libraries might not have access to scholarly articles, or many teachers count library books as academic sources. And in some classrooms, students are required to write papers with very little outside research.

* This isn’t actually true. Back in college, I majored in engineering for two years before switching to English. So I’m not allergic to math. Though differential equations do sometimes make me nauseous.

** Don’t fall into this trap. If Google gives you 25,000,000 sources of crap, you’ll still have 25,000,000 sources that fail the CRAAP test.

Why You Need Scholarly Sources

Thanks to the internet, there is a widespread belief that you can find anything you need to know just from searching online. I can promise you that this is not true. There is a lot of information out there — particularly academic research — that is not available on the open web. And even if everything was available, it would be very, very hard to figure out which sources are the best sources.

Scholarly sources help address both these problems. First, they’re written by experts, and then they are vetted by people who are recognized experts. This takes care of the sorting for you — if you want to research hydraulic fracturing, for example, a scholarly source in a geology journal will have been written by a geologist and then checked by other geologists for accuracy before it reaches you.

Because of this, however, academic sources require funding. They can’t simply exist as blogs on the internet — the individuals who write, review, and edit these articles also need to eat and pay rent. For this reason, most academic journals are sponsored by universities or large private organizations — in many fields, the editors of respected journals will often be university professors, as will most of the reviewers. To cover printing costs, they usually sell journal issues to university libraries and other subscribers. Each journal will have unique features in terms of who the reviewers are, whether they volunteer or get paid, how long it takes for contributions to get published, and so on. However, there is one ironclad rule that defines an academic journal: peer review.

What Is Peer Review?

It’s a term on your next quiz, for starters! Remember this term!

Seriously — peer review is one of the most important processes to understand as a college student. So, let’s watch a quick video that explains what review is and how it works:

Video – DePaul University: Peer Review in 3 Minutes

So, key takeaways from this video:

  • Peer reviewers are like “referees.” They decide whether an article is valid, relevant, and logical.

  • Peer review takes time. Months, sometimes years.

  • Academic journals have a high rejection rate. Sometimes 90%.

  • University libraries pay lots of money for journal subscriptions. Sometimes thousands of dollars.

Let me emphasize: peer reviewed journals require a lot of time and resources to produce, and this is why they are usually much better sources than what you will find on the open internet. I have worked on projects that attempted to function as peer-reviewed works, and it was too hard to make it work. My friends and I simply didn’t have enough time or the money to do it right. Now I have seen others start an academic journal — I once worked with a academic society that started a new journal. I ran a conference that accepted about 50 presenters per year, and they started a journal that accepted 10-12 articles per year.

To give a sense of scale, the conference with 100 attendees had me and five volunteers. The journal that accepted only 12 articles a year had one editor, three reviewers, one assistant — plus two people at a publishing house responsible for formatting and marketing. Plus five other people who were involved in things like designing a website, and posting materials to social media. I will say that running the conference was likely more stressful, but the journal required more people to make the process legitimate. All my work was on the conference end, but from what I heard about the journal, I was stunned by how much work it actually takes.

How Do We Identify These Journals?

Obviously, you can’t just sit in on a journal board meeting. So how do you know if a journal is a good one? First, here’s an article that talks about the differences between scholarly journals and non-scholarly magazines:

West Texas A&M: Scholarly Resources with Criteria and Examples

Here are some key features of scholarly articles:

  • They always cite outside sources, both in the text and with a list of sources. They are essentially research papers.

  • They tend to be long. Ten pages would be short of a scholarly article — they tend to run 20 or more pages.

  • The article titles tend to be long. They are far more descriptive than you see from most newspaper stories or blog posts.

  • The date of publication is prominent. For academic research, the year of publication is very important — scholars use this to determine how recently the research was conducted. Older articles may be “out of date,” and hence unusable for some researchers.

But Not All Journals Are Academic Journals

Now, let me tell you some of the problems that come up when you look for peer-reviewed articles. This is important because there are some sources that look and sound like peer-reviewed materials, but they are not. It’s surprisingly easy to make something that looks academic. Rather than having reviewers, a “journal” might simply accept every paper they receive. Or we have “vanity journals,” where people pay to have their research published. And if that wasn’t enough, there have been cases of people fudging their results in order to make their research “more interesting” and thus more likely to be published in a respected journal.

So, Three Tips to Verifying the Quality of Journal Sources

  1. Libraries can help you find the journals that are respected. Librarians don’t just stock every journal in the world — that would be impossible. Not to mention expensive. Instead, college libraries each stock a selection of journals that are known to follow best practices. Although Google Scholar may have larger lists of sources, it doesn’t always tell you whether a journal is truly legitimate. Yes, you can get great sources through Google Scholar — but you might also find some that are very, very misleading, and that will not help your research.

  2. Wikipedia is also a good way to check if a journal is legitimate. Most respected academic journals will have a Wikipedia article about the journal. Even better, the “fake” journals — ones that don’t follow peer review, or the ones that charge a fee to publish anyone — will also have Wikipedia articles that explain why they’re bad journals. And I’ll be honest — there have been a few times when I should have checked Wikipedia to vet my sources.

  3. Google reviews offer further vetting. If you find an article from a source that just seems off, or you can’t find a Wikipedia article on it, one trick is to type the search terms “review of [journal title].” Or, in the most extreme cases, typing in “[journal title] scam” will give very interesting results.

Let me clear — vetting journal articles can be a pain. It’s time-consuming, and research already takes a lot of time. Usually, it’s fine to simply use the library search tools. It’s often okay to go with the sources on Google Scholar that look okay. But I strongly urge you to double-check any sources that seem “odd.”

West Texas A&M: Scholarly Resources with Criteria and Examples


Unit 6 | Discussion: Using Scholarly Sources for "I Have a Dream"

This is another extended application discussion. In this post, you'll be writing your initial 100-word post and also 2 responses of 50 words each. With the added work, this discussion is worth more points.

Now that we’ve talked about how to find scholarly sources and how bias comes into play with research, let’s see how this plays out in the “real world” of research. Today, we’re going to look at an article that will likely be difficult to understand, but the work of trying to understand it will help you become a better writer and researcher.

The following article is through Heartland Library — you will very likely need to track down the article manually via Heartland Library. In case you need a refresher, here's a link to my Heartland Library Guide.

I Have a Dream” of a Colorblind Nation?’ Examining the Relationship between Racial Colorblindness,System Justification, and Support for Policies that Redress Inequalities,” by Kumar Yogeeswaran et al.

Initial Post: 100 words

Please look over Yogeeswaran's article linked above. You don't need to read the entire article — I'd like you to read the abstract and the first page, and then skim through the main text. Rather than spend an hour reading the article, I want you to practice scanning for key information.

From your scan, find a section of the article that you find interesting. And it's okay if the section you find seems somewhat confusing, or if you don't entirely understand it — it's more that I want you practicing the use of scholarly sources.

From this article, I want each of you to do three things in your initial post:

    1. Summarize a section of the article. Not the whole article — just a portion of it that you find interesting. I prefer that this come from the body of the article — not from the introduction or the conclusion. Also, try to avoid summarizing the same sections your classmates have already addressed. (Some overlap is inevitable — just do your best to choose your own section.) This should take about 50 words or so.

    2. Use a Proper Citation. Cite the author and page number for what you’ve summarized. I do not want a direct quote — I want to see your summary in your own words, but you’re still citing the source of the information that you provide in your summary.

    3. Provide your response to that section. Again, not a response to the entire article — just response to the section you’ve summarized. I’m looking for a minimum of 50 words here. If your summary runs long, make sure you still do 50 words of analysis. I’m looking to see how you respond to the research. Are you taking in the information and processing it? Or have you only repeated what was said?

    4. It's always okay to write extra. For English 101, I will always accept posts that go longer than the word limit. If you find that you have more to say than will fit in the word minimums, feel free to keep writing.

Two Response Posts: 50 Words Each

We don’t always have response posts for the application discussions. However, for this one, I’d like you to choose just two classmates to respond to (ideally someone who has no more than one response already) and talk about whether you agree with their analysis. I’m looking for three things here:

  1. Give Reasons. Go beyond "I like what you wrote!" Let us know what it is that you like about the post.

  2. Use Research. You should reference additional information from the article to support your reasons for agreement or disagreement. You may use a direct quote here, or use another summary.

  3. Use Citation. Your response reason should use proper citation.


Unit 6 | Discussion: Finding Your Scholarly Sources

This is a Project Discussion. In Project Discussions, you each person needs at least One Initial Post of 100 words, and 3 Response Posts of 50 words each. You can use your Initial Post as a “rough draft” or “notes” for the project assignment due at the end of the unit. I recommend writing your initial post first, then writing responses to your classmates, and then coming back to finish your Project Assignment after you’ve received some feedback. Just note: if you post your initial post late, then your classmates might not have time to post responses.

Also, please feel free to post a recording or video for either your initial or response posts. Sometimes it's easier to explain through talking rather than writing.

For this unit, there are two critical skills that you must learn:

  1. Research: You can find appropriate scholarly sources using Heartland Library.

  2. Citation: You learn how to write a Works Cited entry for a scholarly source.

These two skills are crucial for college research — as you move forward in your classes, the ability to do these two things will make any paper you write more professional both in content and appearance. As an instructor, some of the most disappointing papers I’ve read are ones where my students have great ideas and very well-written material, but the sources are unable to support the points being made. And sometimes, I’ve had students simply rely on Google to provide a list of sources on a single keyword search, and all the sources found fall into two traps:

  1. Google search doesn’t favor scholarly sources. Google Scholar will provide many, but only if you use Google Scholar specifically.

  2. Google searches often provide biased results. This is referred to as “filter bubbles.” Essentially, any search algorithm you use will try to give you materials that fit with exactly the terms you typed in. Google, in particular, will also factor in your search history to decide which sources it thinks you will want to read — so any types of biases in your own personal search history can affect the choice of sources Google will give you.

For this discussion, you’ll be using Heartland Library to find scholarly sources that are either relevant to your topic or related to it. Because they will be scholarly, they are more likely to be credible than many sources you’ll find online.

Initial Post: 3 Sources Cited in MLA Format, plus 100 Words

Using Heartland Library, I want you to check the Scholarly/Peer Reviewed box when you enter search terms related to your topic. If you need, please review my page on Using Heartland Library to Find Academic Sources.

You will likely need to use multiple searches to find good sources. The better sources you find at this stage, the easier it will be to write your article for this unit. But let me emphasize, you might not find sources directly about your topic. For example, if I wanted to do an article about the Ford F-150, then it’s likely that Heartland Library will have zero sources about today’s Ford pickups. However, here are some topics that might provide scholarly sources that I could relate to the modern-day Ford F-150:

  1. An article about the history of pickup trucks or automobiles.

  2. An article about the 1919 U.S. Army convoy that drove from Washington, DC, to San Francisco. (The roads and vehicles were so bad in 1919 that they barely made it.)

  3. An article about automotive assembly lines.

  4. An article about the economics of Japanese automobile manufacturing (so you can compare with what you find on American manufacturers.)

After you find your three sources, please write works cited entries for your sources using the Purdue OWL guide to the MLA Works Cited Page: Periodicals. If you scroll down the page, you’ll find the section for scholarly sources.

Here’s a video to help with the formatting:

Video: MLA (8th ed.): How to Cite Articles

Quick Note on EasyBib: if you use EasyBib correctly, I won’t know the difference. If, however, you simply use the automated URL function, it will not work for Heartland library sources. So I recommend doing this manually so you can see the components of good citation.

After writing your Works Cited entries, write 100 words explaining how these articles will help you. If you like, the material here can contribute to this unit’s article.

3 Response Posts: 50 Words Each

Give your honest thoughts about the sources and 100 words that your classmates have written. In particular, I’m looking for you to ask questions and provide suggestions to help your classmates further their research. For example, something like “Since you have that article on Japanese car makers, have you compared the F-150 to the Toyota Tacoma? Here’s a link to the Consumer Reports Comparison.”