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College-Level Research Tutorial

This tutorial models and and teaches users how to navigate and reflect on the research process.

Introduction to Module 2

This module introduces scholarly sources and search tools. Finding and interpreting scholarly sources is challenging, but  it gets easier to do when you understand the context of scholarly sources: why they exist, where to find them, and what kind of information they can give you.The content and activities on this page are designed to develop the knowledge and skills that are key to this stage of college-level research:


  • Scholarly sources are a way academics communicate about common interests
  • Some search tools are designed for academic research


  • Navigating Search@UW (the main library search tool)
  • Interpreting scholarly search results

Practical Skills-2

Watch the three videos: 1. What are scholarly sources?, 2. Is it Scholarly?, and 3.First Search@UW search. Use the arrow commands below the media player to move on to the next video.


Try It Out-2: Characteristics of scholarly sources

Identifying Scholarly Source Characteristics

It can be difficult to identify scholarly sources. Not all scholarly sources look the same, and popular and scholarly sources can have similar characteristics (citing scholarly research, for example). Similarly, both popular and scholarly sources can be biased or have errors. Determining whether a source is popular or scholarly involves reviewing a variety of source characteristics, time, and practice.

1. Review the Sources

There are two sources linked below. Both of these sources are trustworthy and could be used to support research, but one is scholarly  and the other is popular. Practice spotting the differences between the two articles linked below. Without reading either source, try to note each article's author, audience, purpose. Pay attention to number and  types of sources each article cites. Compare vocabulary of the two sources and the type of visuals the articles feature.

Popular Source

Scholarly Source

2. Sort the source characteristics

Next, match the source characteristics listed on the left with the appropriate source type, popular or scholarly. To do this, drag the tiles on the left to the correct placeholders in either the "Scholarly Source" section (the top set of drop zones) or the "Popular Source" section (the bottom set of drop zones). Review the sample popular and scholarly sources above for clues.

3. Reflect or Discuss

Discuss with classmates or reflect on your own:

  • Imagine you have been assigned a research paper, and you are allowed to cite both popular and scholarly sources: How would you decide which sources to use in your writing? What makes a "useful" source?

21st Century Skills-2: Who has access to academic research?

Research conducted at public universities (like UWM) is funded by tax dollars, but very few Americans have access to the published results of this research (scholarly sources). In this video, Dr. Erica Stone discusses the academic publishing cycle and who this system leaves out.

1. Watch

After watching this TED Talk video, reflect on the question below.

2. Reflect or Discuss

Discuss with classmates or reflect on your own:

  • Many of our daily habits are research based (for example, Wearing a seat belt for safety in the car; hand-washing to prevent the spread of illness, etc.) When researchers learn more about a topic through their research, they publish an article in a journal. How do you find out about these discoveries and advances?
  • What are two ways research can be made more useful to people in your community?  How would do these ideas improve upon the existing system?

UWM College-level Research Tutorial 2020 by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.