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WR121 Kaspari: Identifying Scholarly Sources

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

The word "periodical" refers to magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals. Newspapers and popular magazines like People, or Road and Track, are familiar to everyone. Scholarly journals (also called academic, professional, or peer-reviewed journals), are written by experts for other experts. They are considered more authoritative than most other sources, because each article is written by experts and reviewed by a panel of experts from the same field before publication. In-depth research will usually require you to find scholarly journal articles on your subject.

Popular magazines Scholarly journals
Use everyday language Use technical language
Written for the general reader Written for experts by other experts
Do not include references to sources of information used to write the article Include a list of references at the end of the article
Generally make only passing references to research, if at all Often report on research and include descriptions of the methodology used and statistical analysis of the results (articles in the humanities, such as literature or religion, are excepted)
Articles are chosen and checked by editors Articles must pass a review by experts in the same field before publication.

Note: Scholarly journal articles are not always perfect.  Every year many articles are withdrawn because of errors detected subsequent to publication, or because of ethical violations on the part of one of the authors.

Article Comparison Activity

The two titles listed below link to articles from a library article database.  Based on the evaluation criteria above, which is the journal article? How do you know?

Filter by Peer Reviewed Status

Many of the Library's databases have a check-off option for scholarly ("peer-reviewed") journals, making it easy to limit your search to peer-reviewed publications.

picture of check box option to limit to peer reviewed journals

The ScienceDirect and MEDLINE interfaces do not have such a checkoff option, but almost every article in these databases is from a peer-reviewed journal.  New Scientist is the only popular magazine on ScienceDirect.

Scholarly Books

The same general characteristics apply to scholarly books as to journals: they use technical language, are written by experts for experts, and employ "scholarly apparatus" such as detailed references giving the sources of information used. There are also books which, although they are not "scholarly" in the same sense, are highly specialized, and are intended for a reader in a specific field. (An example is Safe Operation of Fire Tankers, published by the U.S. Fire Administration.)

There is no "checkoff" option in the library search to determine scholarly/popular status for books. In general, you must look at the book, examine its language, and determine its intended audience in order to determine whether it is popular or scholarly/field specific.

Popular or Scholarly?

How to Read a Scholarly Article

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