Answered By: Denise R. Gehring, MSLIS, MA
Last Updated: Aug 09, 2023     Views: 9

  • Who is the author and what is their expertise in the subject area?
  • Do they have any professional affiliations?
  • Is their work experience or education relevant? Are any of their other publications relevant?
  • Who is the publisher
  • Why are they publishing this information?
  • Is it well-known in the field, government, or a university press?
  • When was it published?
  • Is the information still relevant?
  • Has the book been updated? Is there a more recent edition?
  • Is the book relevant to your topic?
  • Does it have the depth you require?
  • Review the table of contents and the index to confirm the information you require is covered in the book and to what extent.
  • What is the author’s motivation?
  • Who are the intended readers? The content will vary depending on the book’s targeted audience. It could be very general and introduce the readers to a subject. Conversely, the content could be very specific, aimed at other scholars in the field.
  • Is there a bibliography or list of references?
  • Can you identify research data?
  • What was the editorial process?
  • Is this information reliable?
  • What perspectives are given, or ignored?
  • Be alert for bias. The author may represent only one side of a topic or argument
Types of Books

When searching for books, your results will typically include titles that have different features and that come from a wide range of publisher types, from mass-market paperback publishers to university presses. The type of information presented and how you use it will vary according to the type and nature of the book.

Popular Publications Substantive Publications Trade & Professional Publications Scholarly Publications
These books are written for a general audience and might include fiction or nonfiction. Authors might include fiction writers, journalists, and scholars. But while books might be written by scholars, they generally do not include extensive references to sources used, particularly scholarly sources. Most New York Times best sellers are popular publications. These books offer more in-depth coverage of current and historical events than popular titles and are targeted at people who have no specialized training in an area but who want more depth than a popular publication can offer. The authors can be a mix of journalists, people who work in a field, and academics. These publications are written for practitioners in a specific field. They do not publish original peer-reviewed research or scholarship, but they will often refer to original research and scholarship from scholarly publications. Phrases like "Researchers have found..." or "in a recent study..." generally introduce the scholarship published elsewhere. Also known as academic, refereed, or peer-reviewed, these publications offer in-depth research for an academic audience. Authors are researchers or scholars in the discipline. These books usually include a discussion of research methods, data, and full references to sources (footnotes or bibliography). Books are written for other researchers and scholars and often published by university presses. Usually the topics covered are very specialized and very specific.
Hidden Figures
American Moonshot
Live from the Moon
Linking Children's Learning with Professional Learning
Managing and Supporting Student Diversity in Higher Education
The Once and Future Turing
Noncooperative Game Theory

Sometimes it can be challenging to decide exactly which category a title falls into. You may find it useful to think of the various types of publications as all having a place along a continuum, from popular to scholarly. Remember to ask yourself who published a particular book. Generally, a university press (such as Oxford University Press or Harvard University Press) will publish more scholarly material than other publishers.

Each of these publications has a place in doing research. For example, you might consult a popular book to get a first-person account of a particular event or time period. You would then consult a more scholarly academic book to see how scholars (college and university faculty and graduate students) have conducted research on this same topic and what conclusions their research has led them to over time.

Research provides evidence and drives the conclusions reached by the author.

Adapted with permission from Colorado State University Library, Delgado Community College Libraries, Concordia University Libraries, & Tufts University Libraries