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Library & Research Overview: Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Books

A guide to using the CIA Library and conducting academic research.

Academic Books ~ How Do I Know if a Book is Scholarly?

Scholarly books disseminate research and academic discussion among professionals within disciplines.  They are intended for academic study and research, and are preferred when writing college-level papers. They are published by academic or university presses.

Non-scholarly books typically do not examine a topic with a sufficient level of detail and intellectual rigor. They are not authoritative (the authors are often not academics). They are written to entertain and broadly inform, rather than to advance a field of study. Non-scholarly books are published by commercial presses. 

Keep in mind: a non-scholarly book may be academically appropriate to use for some topics.  The author may have experience and expertise in the subject. The information may be valid and useful for your coursework. Always check with your instructor and follow the assignment requirements.


Comparing Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Books


Scholarly/Academic Book

Non-scholarly/Popular Book


  • To share with other scholars the results of primary research & experiments.
  • To entertain or inform in a broad, general sense.


  • A respected scholar or researcher in the field; an expert in the topic; names are always noted.
  • A journalist or feature writer; names not always noted.


  • A university press; a professional association or known (independent) scholarly publisher.
  • A commercial publisher.

Intended audience

  • Other scholars or researchers in the field, or those interested in the topic at a research level.
  • General public.


  • Language is formal and technical; usually contains discipline-specific jargon.
  • Language is casual. Few, if any, technical terms are used (and if they are, they are usually defined).


  • References are always cited and expected; text often contains footnotes.
  • Very uncommon; text may contain referrals to "a study published at..." or "researchers have found that..." with no other details.


Adapted from University of Toronto Libraries 

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