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Research Strategies

What are Scholarly Sources?

Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed sources) are written by subject experts with systems in place to ensure the quality and accuracy of information. 

Scholarly sources include books from academic publishers, peer-reviewed journal articles, and reports from research institutes.

What is peer review? When a source has been peer-reviewed, it has undergone the review and scrutiny of a review board of colleagues in the author’s field. They evaluate this source as part of the body of research for a particular discipline and make recommendations regarding its publication in a journal, revisions prior to publication, or, in some cases, reject its publication.

 

How to Read a Scholarly Article

Scholarly sources often have a particular writing style and can be challenging to read compared to other types of sources. When reading scholarly literature, read strategically. Don't start by reading the article from start to finish but rather focus on the sections that will give you the information you need first. This will quickly let you know what the article is about and its relevancy for your research. It will also prepare you for when you’re ready to read the full article, giving you a mental map of its structure and purpose.

Here is a suggestion on how to read a scholarly article and which sections to focus on first. 

 

How to read a scholarly article infographic

How to Read a Scholarly Article

1. Read the abstract An abstract is a summary of the article, and will give you an idea of what the article is about and how it will be written. If there are lots of complicated subject-specific words in the abstract, the article will be just as hard to read. 2. Read the conclusion This is where the author will repeat all of their ideas and their findings. Some authors even use this section to compare their study to others. By reading this, you will notice a few things you missed, and will get another overview of the content. 3. Read the first paragraph or the introduction This is usually where the author will lay out their plan for the article and describe the steps they will take to talk about their topic. By reading this, you will know what parts of the article will be most relevant to your topic! 4. Read the first sentence of every paragraph These are called topic sentences, and will usually introduce the idea for the paragraph that follows. By reading this, you can make sure that the paragraph has information relevant to your topic before you read the entire thing. 5. The rest of the article Now that you have gathered the idea of the article through the abstract, conclusion, introduction, and topic sentences, you can read the rest of the article! To review: Abstract, Conclusion,  Introduction, Topic Sentences, Entire Article

How can I tell if an article is scholarly?

There are several ways to determine whether an article qualifies as "scholarly" or "peer-reviewed". First it depends on how you found the source. If you are using library resources such as OneSearch or databases such as Academic Search Premier - you can limit the search to peer-reviewed journals. Many databases will have this feature to allow you to limit searches for scholarly, peer-reviewed, or academic sources.  

Here are some qualities that set them apart from "popular" sources such as newspapers, magazines, etc.

  • Purpose: is to communicate research and scholarly ideas.
  • Author(s): are researchers, scholars, and/or faculty, and they will typically have an institutional affiliation listed.
  • Citations: should have a works cited/references/bibliography with full citations.
  • Length:  usually long, typically range between 8 and 30+ pages. 
  • Audience: is other researchers, scholars, and/or faculty.
  • Coverage: tends to be focused and narrow. 
  • Publisher: are usually university presses, professional associations, academic institutions, and commercial publishers.
  • Peer-review process can take months if not years--from the time that an article is submitted for review and ultimate publication.
  • What it is NOT: some parts of scholarly journals are not peer-reviewed. These include book reviews and letters/responses to the editor.

Ulrich's Periodicals Directory (often referred to as UlrichsWeb) is a database that the University Library subscribes to. You may be told to "check Ulrich's," but what does that mean? Ulrich's will tell you if a journal is still in print, available online, where it is indexed, and most critically, what type of journal it is (scholarly, trade, popular, etc.). This is useful for students being asked to find specific types of sources.

Search using the name of the journal and then look for the black and white referee jacket. This indicates that the journals content is peer-reviewed. 

Ulricks web refereed

How can I tell if a book is scholarly?

Look for several things to determine if a book is scholarly:

  • Publisher: who is the publisher? University presses (e.g. Stanford University Press, University of Pittsburgh Press, University of Washington press) publish scholarly, academic books.
  • Author: what are the author's credentials? Typically written by a scholar/researcher with academic credentials listed. 
  • Content: scholarly books always have information cited in the text, in footnotes, and have a bibliography or references. Scholarly books also often contain a combination of primary and secondary sources.
  • Style: Language is formal and technical; usually contains discipline-specific jargon.

Where to find Scholarly Sources?

The library subscribes to over 250 databases! You can browse databases by Subject Area and read the description for the different types of resources you can find searching that particular database. Otherwise, here are some general multisubject databases and a good place to get started. 

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