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Researching Writers and Their Work

For students exploring literary works such as novels, short stories, poems, and plays

Popular, Substantive, and Scholarly Sources

Unless otherwise instructed by your teacher, you'll probably want to use a variety sources to help you gain a complete understanding of your topic. Sources of information generally fall within three categories.These categories are  Popular, Substantive, and Scholarly (or Peer Reviewed). To use them skillfully you need to be able to identify them and understand their differences.

Picture of popular sources

Popular material:

  • Is created by journalists, staff writers or freelance writers, and, sometimes, by enthusiasts.
  • This type of information is aimed at the general public.
  • It usually provides a broad overview of topics a general readership will find entertaining.
  • If you use popular material for academic work you'll need to be sure to supplement it with articles from scholarly and substantive sources.
Picture of substantive sources

Substantive material:

  • Is produced by scholars or credentialed journalists and is geared toward an educated audience.
  • It provides credible information of relevance to an educated and concerned public.
  • Substantive information is a great choice for community college students, because it is both credible and accessible.
Picture of scholarly sources

Scholarly material:

  • Is produced by scholars/experts whose credentials can be evaluated.
  • Aimed at other scholars, it disseminates specialized and discipline-specific information, often reporting on original research and experimentation.
  • Scholarly information is a great choice for college students, though it can be challenging to read because of its scholarly language.
  • Scholarly sources are often called academic or peer-reviewed.

Do Your Sources Pass the CRAAP Test for Credibility?

As you begin to explore your topic and seek answers to your research questions, you need to be sure that you're using the best possible sources of information. You'll most likely find a variety of sources during your research including books, articles, Web documents, interviews, DVDs, and more.

You can feel pretty confident that books you get from the library and articles you find in the library's databases are reliable and credible because you know those have gone through a traditional editorial process; someone or some group has checked all the facts and arguments the author made and then deemed them suitable for publishing. You still have to think about whether or not the book or article is current and suitable for your project but you can feel confident that it is a credible, reliable source.

For each and every source you use you want to make sure it passed the CRAAP test.

Perkins, Kendra. “The CRAAP Test: An Easy & Fun Way to Evaluate Research Sources.” RefME, 19 Apr. 2016, https://www.refme.com/blog/2016/04/19/the-craap-test-an-easy-fun-way-to-evaluate-research-sources/.

For more on the CRAAP Test see our guide entitled, Are Your Sources Credible? Use the CRAAP Test to Evaluate Your Sources.

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Watch the brief video below to see how this works.