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@thesis-editor.co.uk to learn more.
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I cannot sing the praises of Thesis Editor highly enough.

I am a third year PhD student and I had been struggling for months with my quantitative analysis (both running and interpreting my tests). Any support I had sought out from my institution ended up leaving me more confused than when I arrived. I came across Thesis Editor whilst I was searching online for some stats help, and I am so thankful that I did.

If like I was, you are struggling with an aspect of your PhD, perhaps do not seem to be able to get the help you need from your institution or outside, you will not regret using Thesis Editor.

Dawn, the Director, was absolutely brilliant from beginning to end. I was contacted promptly after my initial enquiry, and there was a very quick turnaround to which a quote was given after assessing my work. I was then assigned a statistitian, Dr Musicha, and received extremely comprehensive feedback within one week. This was then followed by a 1-hour consultation. My consultation with Dr Musicha was nothing less than phenomenal. Honestly I cannot even put into words how much I gained in the hour together. He not only helped me built my knowledge but practically had me share my screen and walked me through my challenges on SPSS so I had a thorough understanding - something that has not been done with my university throughout my PhD. I was taught more in that hour about my quant stats than I have by anyone else. He was also just so kind, and encouraging and really boosted my confidence.

Using Thesis Editor has been an invaluable investment, and I can only thank Dawn and Dr Musicha so dearly.

- Beth

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