Skip to Main Content

Nursing Information Literacy Tutorial

What makes an Information Source scholarly?

Scholarly sources are:

  • written by scholars or experts with advanced degrees in the subject area
  • written for scholars, which means the author(s) will cover advanced, complex content in the common language of that discipline.

Recognizing Scholarly Articles:

  • The language will be formal, complex, and use advanced vocabulary
  • You will probably see section headers, such as "Review of the Literature," "Methods," and "Conclusions" 
  • There will be citations
  • There will be a list of references or works cited
  • The degree and institutional affiliation of the author(s) will be included
  • Sometimes scholarly articles are also referred to as peer reviewed articles.

Recognizing Scholarly Books:

  • The language will be formal, complex, and use advanced vocabulary
  • There will be citations
  • There will be a list of references or works cited
  • Author cites evidence and uses secondary sources
  • Published by university presses (such as: Oxford, Kansas, Cambridge, etc.)
  • Published by scholarly commercial publishers (such as: Hill and Wang, Norton, etc.)

Appropriate Types of Information Sources

Journal Articles

  • Currency: Current within a few months to a few years of publication. Look at the list of references used. What is the most recent date you can find? That should tell you when they stopped researching and started writing. But bear in mind that experimental/observational data they gathered may be a year or two older than that.
  • Type of Information: Most recent research within the subject of the journal. Scholarly journal articles are important in all academic subject areas since not all researchers publish books.
  • Where to Find: Print journals are delivered to subscribers and libraries. Some journals are Open Access and make all their content available online for free. Libraries pay to subscribe to article databases. Those subscriptions make millions of articles available to users at those institutions.


  • Currency: Most books take years to publish so the appropriate research and analysis can take place.
  • Type of Information: Usually Scholarly- depends upon the topic and author. This is explained further in the next section: Scholarly Information.
  • Where to Find: Books are found in bookstores and libraries. eBook versions may be available for consumers via Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc. Some eBooks may also be available through academic libraries in formats that are read in web browsers or downloaded onto a device.

Reference Resources

  • Currency: Print reference resources often have annual updates, so the information in them should be only about a year old. Online reference resources may be updated continuously. The important thing is that reference resources usually tell you how old their information is. 
  • Type of Information: Summary and synthesis of what is known about a topic. Materials to be referred to; for example, facts and figures, dates, names, measurements, statistics, quotations, instructions, equations, formulae, definitions, explanations, charts, graphs, diagrams, maps. 
  • Where to Find: Traditionally, reference resources are available as books or series of books. They can be purchased by consumers but are often far too expensive. They can be found in the reference sections of public and academic libraries. More and more reference resources are available in online format, and as they go online, they become less and less linear, taking advantage of the ability to link and include multimedia. Online reference resources are available through specialized library databases.


  • Currency: Varies widely. Some textbook editors publish a new edition every year, and their information should be current within a year or two of the edition's publication date. Other textbooks in less time-sensitive disciplines may contain information that is more historical in nature.
  • Type of Information: Information on a topic arranged in such a way that a beginner can acquire knowledge about that topic systematically. Textbooks are meant to be used as part of taking a course, but are usually written so that they are complete and understandable on their own. 
  • Where to Find: In libraries some textbooks may be in the stacks or held on reserve. Most textbook publishers do not make textbooks available as e-books for libraries. Some textbooks may also be rented for the duration of the course through a campus bookstore or other online source.