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BWRIT 135: Research Writing (Harack): Scholarly Books

UW Libraries Search

How Do I Use UW Libraries Search

Tips for Searching for Books

  • Try a keyword search and add some of these phrases: "happiness" or "well being" or "human-computer interaction"
  • Refine your results using the links along the left of your search results to narrow the scope of your search to:
    • books under Resource Type
    • and related Topics

Finding Books on the Shelf


The Campus Library uses the Library of Congress Classification System.

This means the Call Numbers listed in the catalog are assigned according to topic and books on the same topic will be together on the shelves. When you find your book, look around to see if other books nearby might also be of interest. 


 You can check out books at the circulation desk on the first floor. You will need your Husky card or government-issued ID.

More information about borrowing books is available on the library website.





Is it Scholarly or Popular Non-fiction?

Sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference, but the key elements that would eliminate a book from being scholarly are— 

1. if the author lacks scholarly authority,

2. if advancing knowledge of the discipline is not the goal of the book,

3. or if the author does not cite sources in a bibliography, notes, or reference section. 




Scholarly Book

Popular Nonfiction Book 



  • University presses (i.e., Stanford,Harvard, Oxford)
  • Scholarly commercial publishers (i.e., Wiley, Routledge, Norton)
  • Popular publishing companies (i.e., Penguin, HarperCollins)

 Author's  Authority 


  • Each author is a scholar or researcher in the discipline 
  • Author is a reporter, pundit, or journalist
  • Discipline-specific expertise is not required

  Cited  Sources

  • Refers to original data or primary sources
  • Uses extensive footnotes and/or bibliography
  • Uses few or no citations
  • Relies on interviews, and sources are discussed in the text of the book, further research by the reader is not assumed


  • Uses discipline-specific language, formal tone
  • Intended for a scholarly audience
  • Uses everyday language
  • Intended for the general public


  • Discusses original research
  • Provides larger context and examination of original documents and/or artifacts
  • Advances knowledge in the discipline
  • Argues personal political opinions
  • Profiles individuals
  • Discusses personal or professional experiences

Adapted from Linda Fredericksen

Evaluating Books (Is it scholarly?)

Once you've found books in the catalog, you can use the chart at the top of this column to evaluate them. Here is an example demonstrating how to apply the chart above to a book.

Save yourself some time by evaluating the publisher and author before you find, download, or request the book.

Publisher- Check the library's catalog entry to see if the book was published by a university press or scholarly publisher.

  • The book above was published by Atlantic Monthly Press. A quick internet search informs me there is a "tradition of high literary quality" with this publisher. This is not enough information to make a decision yet.

Author's authority- Enter the author's name in a search engine and look for information to determine their qualifications. Do they hold an advanced degree? Are they writing within their field of expertise?

  • The author of this book is Darrin M. McMahon. By searching his name I was able to find that he is a professor of history. This is a good sign.

You will need to open the book up and check the contents to evaluate the remaining points.

Cited Sources- Flip to the back of the book and check for a list of cited sources. Some books list the sources after each chapter while other will have all the sources together after the last chapter. You may also find this in the Item Detail tab of the catalog entry.

  • Pages 485—528 list the notes and sources for this book. There is also an index which can be another sign of a scholarly book.

Language-  Read the first few lines of the book, then turn to a page in the middle and scan a few sentences. Now evaluate the writing. Is it intended for those who are studying this topic or is it intended for everyone?

  • This book uses language intended for a more scholarly audience, though the use of jargon is minimal. 

Purpose-  Determine the purpose of a book by scanning the introductory section and/or the concluding section.  

  • In the Preface to this book the author clearly spells out his purpose— tracking the idea of happiness through history and proving its enduring centrality in the activities of humanity throughout time.

CONCLUSION- This is a scholarly book.