33 Scholarly Conversation

Scholarship is Like a Conversation

Scholarly research “is a discursive practice in which ideas are formulated, debated, and weighed against one another over extended periods of time.” Scholarship, as a process, builds upon and negotiates meaning by communicating, contesting, and adding new interpretations, perspectives and results in response to existing research (ACRL). (7) This back and forth process is a formally structured scholarly conversation.

Though scholars often present initial work at a conference or other venue, traditionally the conversations consist of written products, such as published academic papers or books. Scholarly conversations go on for years and, just as mass media information changes over time, so do scholarly findings.

You may ask, What does that have to do with me? College research is built, generally, upon the academic research of scholars. Understanding the nature of scholarly conversations will allow you to utilize current research to formulate and add your own ideas to an ongoing conversation!

Watch the video, Joining the (Scholarly) Conversation to find out how to join the scholarly conversation.

As you learned in the video, before you add your voice to a conversation (write your paper, give a presentation, or posit an opinion), it behooves you to find out what has already been said and what is currently being discussed. You will then be more prepared to make your own informed argument.

In this module you will learn strategies to research and join into current scholarly conversations. (26)


When scholars converse, what do they say? How is that conversation different from other conversations? Watch the video to learn more about research as a conversation.

Watch the video, Inform Your Thinking: Episode 1—Research is a Conversation , and then check your understanding by answering the Self-Check question.

Self Check

Read the questions below and select the best answer.

The video, Inform Your Thinking: Episode 1—Research is a Conversation presents several descriptions of scholarly conversation. Which item is NOT a good description?

  1. Conversation occurs when reconciling the different views people may or may not have.Incorrect!
  2. Conversation ends when scholars find the correct answers.Correct! This is not a good description because the research process is an ongoing back and forth discussion of ideas with new findings and insights that occur over time.
  3. Writers are entering an ongoing conversation.Incorrect!
  4. Different scholars may write about the same topic but have different findings. (26)Incorrect!

Following a Scholarly Conversation

Who are the speakers in a scholarly conversation? How will you follow their conversation once you find them? Perhaps you have a list of references from an excellent journal article that was published five years ago. You can use these references to go back to earlier research, but how do you find out what research has been published in the intervening five years?

All excellent questions! Let’s look at some strategies for investigating or following a scholarly conversation.

This page introduced several strategies for finding more current research. Whether you are looking for your first opening into a given research topic or have found some research and want to find more recent items, one or more of these strategies will help.

Next you will look at a conversation that happened over time. (26)

Get Recommendation from Knowledgeable Person

Get someone with expertise in the topic area, such as a professor or a librarian, to recommend an important work. A typical recommendation might be a literature review from a dissertation or journal, a chapter in a handbook, or an article that changed the field. The recommended work, while not necessarily recently published, offers a starting point that is likely to be referred to by other researchers in the field.

Use the key words or subjects identified from the recommended source in combination with other strategies discussed here to find research that is more recent.

Search Author + Keywords

Once you have identified an author that has published a work important to your research, you will want to find more work by that author. Add the author’s name to your list of keywords to focus the search results on additional research by that author. This method has the added benefit of locating works that refer to that author’s work.

Use this method in library discovery tools and databases.

Control the Vocabulary

Each discipline uses vocabulary in specific ways. The terminology or the name applied to a given topic changes over time. In some fields, such as computing or medicine, new words are frequently created. The vocabulary, or search terms, you use is very important because databases are trying to match the terms you enter with sources.

Consider the age of the research you have found. You may need to use a thesaurus to locate newer terms.

Identify a Journal

Find a journal that regularly publishes articles on your topic. When a new issue is published, read it. This strategy is most helpful when you plan to be engaged with your research topic for a while.

It helps you be aware of research out next month, next quarter, and beyond.

Set Up an Alert

Receive emails when new items are added that match your search terms. This helps you hear about newly published items. Alerts are available in databases, library search tools, and many journals. Like a news subscription, they are ongoing, and the emails continue to be sent until you cancel the alert.

Use this strategy to follow things that will be published tomorrow, next month, and into the future.


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