Evaluating Books

5Ws/1H for Books

Types of Book

Even within the world of reliable and professional books on your topic, you'll find many types of book. Library catalogs and databases will include:

Reference books are not meant to be read through, and don't make an argument. They present facts and resources for you to "refer" to in exploring your topic and collecting background information.

Textbooks are also usually not going to make an argument. Textbooks typically use color, pictures, and contrasting sections to help make learning the material more engaging. They can provide some background information, but are not usually helpful for research projects.

Popular non-fiction books are written for a general audience. The authors may or may not be scholarly experts, but the readers are not, so the text is usually easier to read and less specialized. These books might be useful in your research, if you can determine that the author and the content are credible. 

Monographs are scholarly books generally by a single expert author, making an argument about a specific topic. The audience is usually assumed to be other experts.

Edited collections are books of multiple essays by different experts on a particular theme, put together by one or more other experts. The individual chapters are similar to scholarly articles in structure and scope.

How to Read a Book

Reading a scholarly book for research purposes is different from reading a story, a textbook, or a book for class discussion. You don't always need to read the whole book to evaluate it and get the information and analysis relevant to your project.