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Understanding Sources: Anatomy of a Book


There are many well-researched, non-fiction books geared toward popular audiences. For college/professional level research aim to refer to scholarly/academic books. What are some of the distinctions you can look for?

Scholarly Book


  • Written by a scholar, researcher, PhD holder in the field, or professor.
  • Utilizes extensive primary source documentation.
  • Uses discipline-specific terminology, methodology, and theory.
  • Advances research or contributes to a discipline of study.
  • May be a monograph or edited compilation.
  • Published by a university or scholarly association.


  Authored by a Professor of International Relations at Oxford

  Published by Columbia University Press

  Written for academic audiences familiar with the discipline

  Theoretical and analytical

   Reviewed by academic journals: Political Science Quarterly

Popular Non-Fiction Book


  • Written by a professional, journalist, political pundit, or writer.
  • May or may not include references or notes.
  • Is informational but does not present original, empirical research.
  • Does not require discipline-specific knowledge.
  • Typically a narrative or biographical story.
  • Published by a trade publisher (i.e., Harper Collins, Random House).


  Authored by an award-winning writer

  Published by Random House

  Written for a lay audience

  Narrative or biographical story

  Reviewed by popular sources: The Economist, Sports Illustrated