Is it Scholarly?

Instructors often require that you use scholarly sources in your assignments. Answering these questions will help you determine whether the article you are working with is scholarly.

What does Scholarly mean?

A scholarly article is one that was written by an authority on the topic and published in a reputable journal. Often the research has gone through a review process by other experts to ensure that the results are accurate and presented without bias. This is called “peer-review.” Scholarly journals typically:

  • Are published or sponsored by professional societies or associations
  • Include a list of reviewers or editorial board members
  • Have a current website with an archive of past issues
  • Are free of misspelling and grammatical errors, dead links, statements promising rapid publication and odd or questionable content
  • Do not charge authors for publication of their work

Worksheet: How to evaluate an online journal

How can I tell if an article is scholarly?

The author cites sources

Styles vary, but there will be an in-text citation (Author, 2017) or a footnote indicating where the author found the information they are referencing. 

There is a bibliography or list of references

A bibliography or list of references is a list at the end of the article detailing where the author found the information cited. 

The title of the article reflects its content

Be wary of sensational or alarmist titles.

The content is organized

A scholarly journal article usually has an abstract at the beginning to explain the research and findings in brief. Articles should be organized into the following sections:

  • Introduction or Literature Review 
  • Theory or Background
  • Subjects
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Reference List

The author's credentials are listed

Look for the authors’ degree credentials as well as who sponsors their work. 

The article states its purpose

The article should specify that it is based on either original research or authorities in the field, as opposed to personal opinion.

The article supports its claims

Supporting diagrams or illustrations are often included in scholarly articles. 

You found it in a reliable source

Most library databases will allow you to filter by scholarly or peer review, and some contain only scholarly content: Medline, CINAHL, ERIC, Social Science Abstracts, Humanities Index, PsycInfo and JSTOR are a few. Evaluate articles found elsewhere by the above criteria to determine if they are scholarly. 

How to find scholarly sources

A search from the library homepage can be restricted to scholarly or peer-reviewed sources using the choices in the left-hand menu bar. Most databases will also allow you to filter this way. The reference lists or bibliographies of other scholarly articles are also a good source, but you will need to evaluate them independently. 

What is not scholarly?

You may find articles from popular magazines, newspapers, trade publications, websites, corporate reports, or other resources while doing research on your topic. These types of publications:

  • Are written by journalists or tradespeople
  • Are intended for a broad audience
  • Tend not to include references to back up their claims
  • Can be based on personal opinion

These may be good resources depending on your assignment, but are not considered scholarly. 

Still not sure? Ask A Librarian.