How to Identify and Navigate a Scholarly Monograph book

[coauthored with Maxine P. Atkinson, Professor and ex-Head, NCSU Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology]

    Identifying a Scholarly Monograph

  • During your college career, you use a wide range of books and articles. Some are simple textbooks or reference books. Others, however, require a bit more savvy than just opening and reading. We hope this guide helps you navigate your way efficiently and effectively through scholarly monographs. First lesson, monographs are not "novels." Monographs are non-fiction; novels are fiction. Don't confuse the two.
  • Before you can navigate a scholarly monograph, you must fine one. Use specialized findings aids for each discipline, not generic search engines like Google or Bingo. The latter do not discriminate between scholarly and other. The former do. Use these specialized search engines for Latin American history.
  • Once you find a source, you need to decide whether the book or article in question is indeed scholarly and if it is a monograph.
  • First, is it scholarly?
    1. The first clue is the author. Look on the back cover or on the dust jacket (if the book has one) for author information--or do an author search. Is s/he a credentialed expert in the field? Hold an advanced degree? Author of other major books or articles? Can't find author info? Go to the acknowledgments page at the front of the book. The first note of an article often has acknowlegements. If the author has thanked people at various libraries, archives, and other intellectual sites, as well as prominent scholars in the field, s/he probably knows his/her stuff. Check the publisher on the title page. university press publication probably means a good, refereed work. Books from commercial presses may or may not be scholarly.
    2. Is the work based on solid research? Again, return to the works cited and acknowledgement pages and examine the notes. Do you find important intellectual repositories (libraries, archives)? What kind of sources are cited? Does the author(s) refer to newspaper articles, popular magazines, or tertiary sources (dictionaries, encyclopedias, or God-forbid Wikipedia) for factual information? If so, you probably have a journalistic or popular treatment that is not scholarly. For historical works, do you find a wealth of primary sources? How do you tell? Look at the notes, which will often have abbreviations (acronyms) and short author/title citations. Using that information, go to the bibliography and find the origin of the information. Obviously an article published in 1985 cannot be a primary source for events that occurred in the 1830s.
  • Second, is the work a monograph? Webster tells us at a monograph is "a learned treatise on a small area of learning; also a written account of a single thing." Does the book have a single, topical focus? It should. Is it about a single research study? Flip to the back. Does it have endnotes and an index? If you don't find notes, look at the bottom of pages. Perhaps the press used footnotes rather than endnotes. Other things that indicate a scholarly monograph: glossary, works cited list (bibliography), appendices. The work may be coauthored--multiple authors are OK.

    Navigating a Scholarly Monograph

  • If you have found a scholarly monograph, then here are some hints to help you read the book or article more effectively. First identify the major thesis or main idea of the book or article. Survey the book: After examining the above parts of the book, read its introduction and preface. That short sections lays out the author's game plan. If you see the book's "big picture," it will help you understand its various components. Scholarly articles often open with an "abstract" that lays out the main topics; the main focus should appear within the first couple of pages.
  • How do you find the information that you need? If you are prepping for a quiz or gathering information for a research paper, you want to be in fact-finding mode. Use the index to help locate relevant information quickly. Look for chapter titles and subheadings to speed research. Scan the text quickly and extensively for what you need. Hit a foreign word? Check the book's glossary. If you are reading a journal online, use the "search in page" function.
  • In contrast, to prepare for a class discussion or an analytical essay, you must do close, intensive reading. Read deeply, and often reread, to find subtleties and nuances. Let your ears help your eyes-- read difficult sections aloud. You'll need to check citations (notes that often include further discussion). Instead of merely gleaning information, you must evaluate the arguments presented--this takes more time and brain power, but it yields greater understanding and learning.