Posted by: Emily | March 12, 2010

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly

How in the world to explain the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly information? I tried something new in my class yesterday afternoon, asking a series of questions and then talking them out with the small group of ten or so students who showed up to the last class before spring break. Instead of locating the difference around which source is ‘better’ or ‘more accurate,’ I focused on the context of the information. With a little prompting, these students (in an Honors class, researching Irish literary figures) were quickly able to come to the distinctions on their own.

1. Who wrote it?

2. Who will read it? Who did they write it for?

3. How is the content distributed?

4. Where would I go to access that distribution channel?

Scholarly articles are written by professors and researchers and (yes!) students in an Honors class about Irish literary figures. They’re read by students (in the context of this university course), researchers, and professors. (In other words, the scholarly discourse community.) The content is distributed by university presses or scholarly organizations in books and journal articles. (I know there’s some online publishing, but not enough in the humanities for this to be a distinction I discussed with this class. I’d be interested in ways you might draw those lines.) You’d start at the library or, yes, Google Scholar, to access those distribution networks. At the same time, we talked through a non-scholarly example, and students were quick to point out the differences.

It was funny–I heard a lot, and hear a lot, of this ‘it’s published by somebody like me on the internet and therefore is bad information’ line. I don’t know exactly where in the educational process this becomes the semi-official way to talk about information production, but I wish we’d stop. Telling students that their voices and communities of discourse are ‘bad’ seems like a sure-fire way to make them resent us when we try to introduce them to discourses that aren’t ‘good,’ but simply different. And as long as power is attached to those differences–you catch more social power with scholarly language than you do with  LOLcat-ese–we need to make sure we don’t belittle our students before they even begin to join the conversation.



  1. […] Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly […]

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