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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

Part 1. Compare and Contrast two sources: popular and scholarly

Instructions: Open both articles linked below in different browser tabs. Without reading either source:

  • Identify each article's author, audience, and purpose.

  • Pay attention to number and types of sources cited in each article

  • Skim a paragraph or two. Note the differences in the word choice and writing style (language) of the two sources

  • Review the type of visuals used in each source 

Both of these sources are trustworthy and could be used to support college-level research, but one is considered popular and the other is scholarly.

Part 2: Review the Source Characteristics

Instructions: After completing Part 1, compare your observations about the two sources with the source characteristics summarized in the chart below.

  • How accurate was your assessment?
  • Did you notice that the two articles have the same author?

Popular Source:

"Therapy dogs help students cope with the stress of college life" from The Conversation.

Scholarly Source:

"Should Dogs Have a Seat in the Classroom? The Effects of Canine Assisted Education on College Student Mental Health" from The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy.


The author is a professor of occupational therapy with a PhD, but that doesn't automatically make this a scholarly source.

Anyone can be the author of a popular source, and that's why it's important to review multiple source characteristics to tell if a source is scholarly.

These authors all have advanced degrees (PhD, MSOT, MS) in Occupational Therapy and are licensed occupational therapists. They are experts affiliated with Wayne State University and Ithaca College (according to the cover page)
Audience The homepage links to lots of short articles about current events and human interest stories.This tells us articles published by The Conversation are written for readers who want to learn a little bit about a variety of issues in the news. Readers do not need specialized knowledge about any subject to understand articles published in the Conversation. According to the journal website, the Open Journal of Occupational Therapy (OJOT) publishes articles that, "focus on applied research, practice, and education in the occupational therapy profession". This tells us that OJOT articles are written for occupational therapy researchers and practitioners. Readers will probably need specialized knowledge about Occupational Therapy to understand articles published in OJOT.
Purpose This article starts with an uplifting story about a student's experience with therapy dogs.This story includes facts from several different research studies, but the article is short and doesn't go into detail about these studies. This article was written to share basic information and entertain readers. The authors of this article conducted an original research experiment to better understand the impact of therapy dogs on student stress. This article was written to share their research findings with other Occupational therapy researchers and practitioners.
Sources Cited This author uses linked text to direct readers to the small number of sources she used to write the article. Only a few of the linked sources are scholarly. There is no literature review or reference list/bibliography. This reference list is 35 sources long and mostly contains other scholarly sources.
Language Used The author uses terms that most readers would understand like "therapy dog." Scanning the first few paragraph, the language is professional but readable. The authors use the term "animal assisted intervention" to describe the use of therapy animals in occupational therapy literature. scanning the first few paragraphs, the language seems formal and technical.
Visuals Used This article has a picture of a therapy dog and a picture of a person smiling at a dog. These images make the article look nice, but they are not necessary to understand the article.

Figure 1 “Conceptual Theoretical Model Applying PEO to Canine Assisted Education in this Study” is a diagram that explains the main theoretical model applied by the researchers. It's there to help readers understand the authors' research methods.

Figure 2 “Pretest-Posttest Anxiety and Stress Bar Graph” is a graph that presents data collected by the researchers as part of their experiment.

Both of these visualizations are included to help readers understand the research the authors conducted.


Part 3A. Check Your Understanding

Instructions: Complete this six-question, multiple choice assessment in Part 3A. Select the best answer, then use the arrow in the right corner to advance to the next question. After you have completed the assessment, click 'Show Solution' to see your results and get feedback. Then move onto the discussion and reflection questions in Part 3B. This activity isn't graded, and your responses will not be recorded or shared.

Note: If you experience display issues with this box while using Mozilla Firefox, adjust the size of your browser window a little (make it slightly bigger, smaller, or exit/enter full-screen view). This will not impact the functionality of the quiz

Part 3B. Reflect or Discuss

Instructions: Review the two questions below, and either discuss with classmates or reflect on your own.

  • How did you do on the assessment? Share which source characteristics are most challenging for you to identify.
  • 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.