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BIOC54: Animal Behaviour

A guide on library resources to help with your course.

Types of Sources

What is a Scholarly Source?

A scholarly publication is one in which the content is written by experts in a particular field of study - generally for the purpose of sharing original research or analyzing others' findings.

Scholarly work will thoroughly cite all source materials used and is usually subject to peer review prior to publication. This means that independent experts in the field review or "referee" the publication to check the accuracy and validity of its claims.

The primary audience for this sort of work is fellow experts and students studying the field. As a result, the content is typically much more sophisticated and advanced than articles found in general magazines or professional/trade journals.

In brief, scholarly work is:

  • written by experts for experts
  • based on original research or intellectual inquiry
  • provides citations for all sources used
  • usually peer-reviewed prior to publication


Be Careful!

Some publications have many characteristics of a scholarly work but are not peer-reviewed. These can be valuable sources for your research, but the extent to which a particular work would benefit  from formal scrutiny is not always clear. For example:

  • Government documents: A vast array of publications are produced by government bodies. Some of these will not peer-reviewed but are produced by subject experts and have most of the characteristics of a scholarly publication. 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: ​Compilations of papers presented at conferences are sometimes the base material for future refereed publications and have already been peer-reviewed. 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.
  • 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.

What is a Popular Source?

While many of your research projects will require you to read articles published in scholarly journals, books, or other peer-reviewed source of information, there is also a wealth of information to be found in more popular publications. These aim to inform a wide array of readers about issues of interest and are much more informal in tone and scope.

  • Examples: general news, business and entertainment publications (e.g. Time Magazine, Business Weekly), special interest publications (e.g. National Geographic, Scientific American, Psychology Today)

What is a Trade Publication?

These are more specialized in nature than popular publications, but are not intended to be scholarly. These types of publications are aimed at experts in the field and/or keen amateurs, but the content focuses on news, trends in the field, promotional material, etc.

Research findings are not typically disseminated here, though they may report that a scholarly publication is forthcoming. These types of publications typically will contain more advertising than a scholarly journal, though it's usually targeted to the field in some way.

  • Examples: Education Digest, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Publishers Weekly

Adapted from Evaluating Information Sources, UBC Library creative commons license icon