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Journals & Periodicals: Identifying Scholarly Sources

Learn how to distinguish between the 3 major categories of information sources: scholarly, popular, and trade.

Is it a Scholarly Article?

Scholarly = expert author + focused analysis + citations provided + a formal publiation process via a university or professional society. Anything else may be a good source but it won't count as scholarly!

Signs you have a scholarly article:

  • References/Bibliography/Works Cited -- Whatever it may be called, there's a long list of sources at the end of the article. The sources referenced themselves tend to be scholarly.
  • Authors are experts -- Look for the authors to have at least Masters degrees (probably PhDs) from accredited universities.
  • Language is a bit dense -- The article title is long and descriptive, and so are the sentences. A high-level vocabulary using jargon or technical terms as well as potentially complex sentence structure are noticeable. The audience of these articles is intended for other scholars in that field.
  • Few or no images -- Not a lot of decoration in these articles. Images that exist are probably charts or graphs to help present data. You also shouldn't be seeing ads around the article.
  • Lengthy -- There's no getting around it: these articles tend to be much longer than what you find from a newspaper or magazine. If you've found an article that's only a couple of paragraphs, it's not scholarly. There's no hard rule, but scholarly articles should easily be at least 5 pages.

The Scholarly, Popular, or Trade? page of this guide has a detailed breakdown of characteristics.