Evaluating Books

How to identify and evaluate scholarly books

Evaluating Books


The following criteria should be used together to determine if a book is scholarly and to evaluate whether it's appropriate for your purposes. Most of the information needed to assess a book on the basis of these criteria can be found in the book's front matter (i.e., title page, publication info, table of contents, preface/foreword).



Words used in the title can often give you clues about a book's intended audience or purpose. Scholarly book's usually have titles that sound more formal. For example, books with titles like Complexity and Evolution: Toward a New Synthesis for Economics have a much greater likelihood of being scholarly as compared to books with titles like Business Cat: Money, Power, Treats.


Publication Date

Timeliness and currency are important when selecting a book for your research. Whether or not a book is considered current will vary greatly depending on the discipline and the particular topic. Additionally, since it can take years to write and publish a book, if you're looking for the most up-to-date information available, you may need to consult other types of sources that have a faster publication cycle.



Authors of scholarly books cite their sources using formal citation styles like APA, MLA, Chicago, or others. These references may appear as parenthetical citations, footnotes, endnotes, or bibliographies. When evaluating the quality of a scholarly book, it's often useful to examine these citations to get a better sense of the relationship between the book and other scholarly work on the topic.


Tone and Language

The text of scholarly books will usually have a more serious tone and use formal or technical language that may not be easily understood by a general audience.



Scholarly books are almost always written by professors or researchers affiliated with universities or research institutes. Some scholarly books, often called edited books or edited volumes, are co-authored by a group of people who are each responsible for a particular chapter. The editors of edited volumes are also professors or researchers.

Most scholarly books list their authors' and/or editors' credentials (i.e., affiliations with universities or research institutes, previous publications, and sometimes academic degrees). This information can be useful in determining whether someone is considered an authority on the topic they're writing about.



There are several different categories of publishers, each specializing in particular types of book. A quick Google search can tell you which of the following categories a publisher belongs to:

Category Types of Books Examples
University Scholarly Harvard University Press
Professional Professional, technical, reference, textbooks Wiley; Scholastic
Research Center/ Institute Scholarly (often reporting research produced by members of the center or institute) Pew Research Center; Brookings Institution Press
Commercial/Trade  Popular/mass-marketed Random House; Penguin
Open Access Scholarly, textbooks Muse Open; National Academies Press


Reviews of scholarly books are often published in scholarly journals. If the book you're evaluating has been reviewed, it can be helpful to consult the review to get a better sense of how the book is perceived by other scholars doing research in the same subject area. You can find book reviews in many library databases. For a list of these databases and tips on using them to find scholarly book reviews, see Book Reviews.

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