With Eric S. Rabkin, he published in 1977 the book Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, which considerably influenced science fiction studies. In it, they attempt to explain the literary history of the genre, but also the sciences such as physics and astronomy.
Scholes became well known as a cogent guide to literary theory and semiotics as they became influential in U.S. literary studies in the 1970s and 1980s. His 1982 book Semiotics and Interpretation was praised in the Times Literary Supplement as offering "a clutch of examples of semiotics usefully and intelligently applied, which Scholes's patient, cheerful tone and his resolutely concrete vocabulary manage to combine into a breezily informative American confection."
Scholes held honorary doctorates from Lumière University Lyon 2, France, (1987) and SUNY Purchase (2003). He was a president of the Semiotic Society of America (1989–1990) and of the Modern Language Association of America (2004). In 1998, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Scholes served most recently as the director of the Modernist Journals Project. In his collaboration with Clifford Wulfman, Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction (2010), Scholes offered a primer on early twentieth-century magazines, with particular attention given to the relationship of advertising to editorial content.
- Approaches to the Novel (1961), editor
- The Cornell Joyce Collection: A Catalogue (1961), editor
- The Nature of Narrative (1966) with Robert Kellogg
- The Fabulators (1967)
- Elements of Poetry (1969)
- Structuralism in Literature (1974)
- Structural Fabulation: An Essay on Fiction of the Future (University of Notre Dame Press, 1975)
- Science fiction: history, science, vision. Oxford University Press. 1977. ISBN 0-19-502174-6. with Eric S. Rabkin
- Fabulation and Metafiction (1979)
- Semiotics and Interpretation (1982)
- Textual Power (1985)
- Protocols of Reading (1989)
- In Search of James Joyce (1992)
- Elements of Fiction (1995), translation of a work first published in Japanese
- The Rise and Fall of English: Reconstructing English as a Discipline (1998)
- The Crafty Reader (2001)
- Paradoxy of Modernism (2006)
- Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction (2010) with Clifford Wulfman
- "Semiotics and Interpretation by Robert Scholes". Yale University Press. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- "Curriculum Vitae for Robert Scholes". Brown University. April 2011. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- Stein, Lorin (December 2010). "New Books: Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction". Harper's. Harper's Magazine Foundation. 321 (1,927): 75. Retrieved 2011-01-22.