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Research Skills Tutorial

What is a Scholarly Source?

Scholarly sources are:

  • written by scholars, experts with advanced degrees in the subject area
  • written for scholars, which means the author(s) will cover advanced, complex content in the common language of that discipline
  • peer reviewed, or editorially reviewed

We usually talk about scholarly articles, but there are also scholarly books called monographs. These are published by university presses and have many of the same identifying characteristics as scholarly articles.

Recognizing Scholarly Articles

There are certain characteristics that make it easy to recognize a scholarly article when you see one. 

  • The language will be formal, complex, and use advanced vocabulary.
  • You will probably see section headers, such as "Abstract," "Review of the Literature," "Methods," "Discussion," and "Conclusion." 
  • There will be citations.
  • There will be a list of references or works cited.
  • The degree and institutional affiliation of the author(s) will be included.
  • There will be no advertisements

Scholarly articles are also called peer-reviewed articles. 

What is Peer Review?

Peer review is the most rigorous form of quality control that exists for scholarly information sources. An expert could write a webpage or magazine article - even one intended to be read by other experts - but it would still not be considered scholarly, because the quality control process for vetting the information before it is published is not rigorous enough. 

A video by NC State University Libraries explaining the peer review process. 

Finding Scholarly Sources

Some library databases contain scholarly articles, exclusively. Others contain a mix of scholarly and non-scholarly sources. If you are searching a databases that mixes scholarly and non-scholarly content, or if you are using the library discovery search, there is a way to ensure that all your search results will come from scholarly sources. You will find this feature on the Advanced Search screen and adjacent to the Search Results list.

If you are using the Discovery Search, on the far left column, select "Peer-Reviewed Journals" and then click "Apply Filters." That will eliminate results from non-scholarly publications. Most databases work similarly.

Note: Not all items published in scholarly publications are scholarly articles; some scholarly publications include items like book reviews and editorials which would not be considered scholarly.


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