Determining whether a book is scholarly

Scholarly books are written by academics and intended for an audience of other academics, and can make great resources for research papers, as opposed to popular reading books intended for more general audiences. Scholarly writers may assume that the reader already has some understanding of the topic and its vocabulary. There are several clues that you can use to determine whether a book is scholarly. Use the following questions to assess the book.


  • Does the publisher specialize in this field?
    • You can search for other books distributed by this publisher to determine whether or not they will be familiar with the topic.
    • Take a look at the publisher’s website if you are unsure of its subject expertise and purpose.
  • Is it published by a university press such as Oxford University Press or Indiana University Press? University presses are usually focused on scholarly works so they can be a good source for scholarly books. However, a university press does not always have to publish scholarly books. For example, some university presses publish literary fiction or general interest books.
  • Does the publisher (or the author) have a religious or political affiliation? Consider how this affiliation might affect the scholarship or content of the book.


  • Does the author have credentials that give them authority on the subject? For example, are they a professor, researcher, or professional in the field they are writing about?
  • Is the author recognized by other scholars in the field?
    • Many scholarly books will have reviews written about them by other professionals that can help you gauge the credibility of an author. You can find book reviews via Library Search by searching for the title of the book and filtering to “Reviews.”

Cited sources

  • Does the author cite any sources in the text of the book? Scholarly books will have cited references or a bibliography. Most books written for general audiences will not.
  • Consider the quality of the cited sources. Note whether the bibliographies include scholarly journal articles, primary sources, or other scholarly books by experts in the field.


  • Consider accuracy, bias, audience appropriateness, graphics, charts, and illustrations. Note the book's organization such as a preface, introduction, table of contents, conclusion, and index.

Book reviews

  • Search for book reviews and evaluate the reviewers' opinions.

Still have questions?

  • Ask your instructor whether or not they think the book is scholarly.
  • Contact your subject librarian for additional help.