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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

College Writing

English 112

Evaluating Books

Many of the same criteria that you use to evaluate articles also apply to evaluating books. When you're reading books, ask yourself the following questions to help you assess what type of publication you are reading:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What authority does the author have to write on the topic covered? Is the author a freelance writer? A practitioner? A scholar?
  • What is the author's point of view (or of the publisher as a whole)?
  • Who published the material and why are they publishing this information?
  • Does the type of information provided meet my research needs?
  • Is the information provided relevant to my topic or research question?

Types of Books

When searching for books, your results will typically include titles that have different features and that come from a wide range of publisher types, from mass-market paperback publishers to university presses. The type of information presented and how you use it will vary according to the type and nature of the book.



Popular Publications Substantive Publications

Trade & Professional

Scholarly Publications
These books are written for a general audience and might include fiction or nonfiction. Authors might include fiction writers, journalists, and scholars. But while books might be written by scholars, they generally do not include extensive references to sources used, particularly scholarly sources. Most New York Times best sellers are popular publications. These books offer more in-depth coverage of current and historical events than popular titles and are targeted at people who have no specialized training in an area but who want more depth than a popular publication can offer. The authors can be a mix of journalists, people who work in a field, and academics. These publications are written for practitioners in a specific field. They do not publish original peer-reviewed research or scholarship, but they will often refer to original research and scholarship from scholarly publications. Phrases like "Researchers have found..." or "in a recent study..." generally introduce the scholarship published elsewhere. Also known as academic, refereed, or peer-reviewed, these publications offer in-depth research for an academic audience. Authors are researchers or scholars in the discipline. These books usually include a discussion of research methods, data, and full references to sources (footnotes or bibliography). Books are written for other researchers and scholars and often published by university presses. Usually the topics covered are very specialized and very specific.



Hidden Figures


American Moonshot

Live from the Moon


Managing and supporting student diversity in higher education : a casebook

Educational technology and narrative : story and instructional design


The Once and Future Turing
Dynamic noncooperative game theory


Sometimes it can be challenging to decide exactly which category a title falls into. You may find it useful to think of the various types of publications as all having a place along a continuum, from popular to scholarly. Remember to ask yourself who published a particular book. Generally, a university press (such as Oxford University Press or Harvard University Press) will publish more scholarly material than other publishers.

Each of these publications has a place in doing research. For example, you might consult a popular book to get a first-person account of a particular event or time period. You would then consult a more scholarly academic book to see how scholars (college and university faculty and graduate students) have conducted research on this same topic and what conclusions their research has led them to over time.