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Research Skills Tutorial

This is a self-paced, non-credit course that covers research skills, critical thinking, media and internet literacy, and understanding the complexities of the modern information environment (including libraries.)

Scholarly Sources

What makes an information source scholarly?

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 [See below.]

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 "Review of the Literature," "Methods," and "Conclusions." 
  • 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 or illustrations meant only to entertain you.

To view the basic components of a scholarly article, explore this brief, visual tutorial: Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

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. 

This video below, from NCSU, does a great job of explaining how the peer review process works.

Peer Review v. Editorial Review

Double-blind peer review is considered the strongest method of review because, in theory, the author does not know who the reviewers are and the reviewers do not know who the author is. This is intended to reduce bias. In practice, scholars working in the same subject area usually know each other and can recognize each others' specializations and writing styles. In double-blind peer review, though, the reviewers are volunteers who do not work for the journal.

Editorial review involves reviewers who are members of the journal's editorial board, instead of anonymous volunteer experts as in peer review. It is still a very strong method, and editorially reviewed articles are still considered scholarly. 

Finding Scholarly Information 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 OneSearch, 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 OneSearch, view the column to the left of your Search Results list. You will see a check box for Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals. Click it and then click the Update button that appears, and that will eliminate all 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.

Screenshot of the OneSearch search results page. The option to limit search results to scholarly/peer reviewed is highlighted.

Popular or Non-scholarly Information Sources

Sometimes it is appropriate to use non-scholarly information sources. 

  • Newspapers are not scholarly, but are the best way to get information about current events.
  • Magazines can be used to examine "pop culture" themes of a certain time period.
  • Many kinds of gray literature are technically not scholarly, but serve as valuable resources for scholarly research. One example would be government statistics and reports. 
  • Textbooks and reference books are not scholarly (see tertiary sources in the next section), but we learn from them.
  • Primary sources are not scholarly, but can still be very important for research.
  • Trade and professional journals. [See below]

Trade or Professional Journals

Some research areas do not produce scholarly journals. These include fields like fire fighting, sound equipment sales, hotel management, etc., which produce trade journals or professional journals, instead. Trade and professional journals are:

  • written by experts, but these are usually not people with PhDs who are working in academia; instead, they are experts who are employed in the trade or profession
  • written for experts, but again, the readers are not necessarily scholars; they are individuals working in that trade or profession
  • not peer reviewed or editorially reviewed; instead, they are more like magazines in that they have editors.

Accessibility Note

Please note: If you need to request accommodations with content linked to on this guide, on the basis of a disability, please contact Disability Services by emailing them at Disability.Services@esc.edu.  Requests for accommodations should be submitted as early as possible to allow for sufficient planning. If you have questions, please visit the disability services website http://www.esc.edu/disabilityservices.