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Introduction to Library Resources: Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Articles

This guide is to give you an overview of resources available through the Drain-Jordan Library, similar to what students will learn in our Library Introduction classes.

What's the Difference Between a Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Article or Resource?

In academic research it is important to distinguish between scholarly (academic or expert) and non-scholarly (or popular) sources. While both types of sources are valuable in research, most academic work will favor scholarly sources over non-scholarly ones. Below you'll find a brief comparison of the two, and when to use each in your research.

Scholarly (Academic) Sources
A scholarly publication is one in which the content is written by experts in a particular field of study - generally for the purpose of sharing original research or analyzing others' findings. Scholarly work will thoroughly cite all source materials used and is usually subject to "peer review" prior to publication. This means that independent experts in the field review, or "referee" the publication to check the accuracy and validity of its claims. The primary audience for this sort of work is fellow experts and students studying the field. As a result the content is typically much more accurate and advanced than articles found in general magazines, or professional/trade journals.

In brief, scholarly work is:

  • written by experts for experts
  • based on original research or intellectual inquiry
  • provides citations for all sources used
  • is usually peer reviewed prior to publication

A good example of the typical components of a scholarly journal article can be found in the Anatomy of a Scholarly Article from North Carolina State University Libraries.

Non-Scholarly (Popular) sources
While many of your research projects will require you to read articles published in scholarly journals, books, or other peer reviewed sources of information, there is also a wealth of information to be found in more popular publications. These aim to inform a wide array of readers about issues of public interest and are more informal in tone and scope. Examples include general news, business, and entertainment publications such as Time Magazine, Business Weekly, and Vanity Fair. This can also include .edu and .gov sources you've found on the Internet, that have not been verified as a scholarly source.

Note* Special interest publications which are not specifically written for an academic audience are also considered "popular" i.e., National Geographic, Scientific American, and Psychology Today.

I've found a journal I like, but how do I know if it's scholarly or not?

One reference source that can help you make the distinction between scholarly and non-scholarly sources is: Ulrich's International Periodical Directory. Ulrich's can help you determine credibility of periodical sources as well as provide basic factual and qualitative information about many periodicals; it also indicates whether a journal is peer reviewed or not. They refer to it as being refereed. You can find which journals have been peer-reviewed by typing in the name of the journal you're searching for, and then from the search results there will be a little black heart-shaped icon nex to the title if it has been refereed. (See screen shot below)

Finding "Refereed" journals through Ulrich's search results

Another way to find articles that are scholarly is to check the Peer Reviewed option box that appears in many of our databases. This way, when you search, it will only pull up journals and articles that have been peer reviewed. Below is an image of where this box is within our EBSCO databases, but it also appears in many others, such as Academic OneFile, all the Gale databases, and all the ProQuest databases.

Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed check box location through EBSCO

If you are not finding your source on Ulrich's, and it doesn't meet the requirements for scholarly sources listed above, then err on the side of caution and assume it is not scholarly. Most sources, if they are from our databases, will say what journal they're from and whether or not they have been peer reviewed. 

As always, if you need help at any point finding good peer reviewed sources, please don't hesitate to Ask Us!

Scholarly or Non-Scholarly Sources Quick Guide

 

 

Scholarly Sources

Non-Scholarly Sources

Audience

Scholars, researchers, practitioners

General public

Authors

  • Experts in the field (i.e., Faculty members, researchers)
  • Articles are signed, often including the author's credentials and affiliation
  • Journalists or freelance writers
  • Articles may or may not be signed

Footnotes

Includes a bibliography, references, notes and/or works cited section

Rarely includes footnotes

Editors

Editorial board of outside scholars (known as peer review)

Editor works for publisher

Publishers

Often a scholarly or professional organization or academic press

Commercial, or profit

Writing Style

  • Assumes a level of knowledge in the field
  • Usually contains specialized language (jargon)
  • Articles are often lengthy
  • Easy to read - aimed at the layperson
  • Articles are usually short, and often entertain as they inform

General Characteristics 

  • Primarily print with few pictures
  • Tables, graphs, and diagrams are often included
  • Usually few or no advertisements
  • Often have "journal," "review," or "quarterly" as part of the title
  • Usually have a narrow subject focus
  • Contains ads and photographs
  • Glossy
  • Often sold at newsstands, grocery/drug stores or bookstores
  • Usually have quite a broad subject focus