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Research Help: Scholarly and Non-scholarly sources

Tips for Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-scholarly Sources

This guide provides a brief overview of scholarly sources with the aim of helping you distinguish scholarly from non-scholarly sources. 

Scholarly Sources

  • Are usually written by experts in the field.  For example, articles in scholarly journals are generally written by professors, librarians or doctoral-level graduate students.  The primary readership for this work is other scholars and students. 
    • Look for: author credentials and author affiliations (for example, an indication that an author is a professor at university X). 
  • Are often peer-reviewed.  A peer-reviewed article, for example, is one that has been critically assessed by other scholars and experts in the field as part of the publication process.  Reviewers may recommend revisions to an initial manuscript and recommend to a journal editor whether or not an article is suitable for publication in the journal to which it has been submitted.  
    • Look for: many databases will indicate whether or not an article has been peer-reviewed.  If you cannot find any indication of this, try the journal's website; most scholarly journals will have a "guidelines for authors" section (or similar) that describes the journals publication process. 
  • Engage with and build on previous research on the same subject.  Scholars take into consideration the existing research literature and respond and add to it by carrying out further research and investigation. 
    • Look for: In certain disciplines, it is common for scholarly articles to have a literature review section (or similar) where earlier scholarship on a topic is acknowledged and briefly discussed.  In other disciplines, articles are not typically divided into labeled sections and discussion of earlier work may appear in various places of the paper.
  • Contribute to the state of knowledge in their field by presenting original findings, arguments or interpretations. 
    • Look for: In some disciplines, it is common for scholarly articles to have Results and Discussion sections, where research findings are outlined and explained.  In other disciplines, where articles aren't typically divided into labeled sections, an article may offer analysis of an issue or problem or an interpretation or critical discussion (of a work or art or literary work, for example). 
  • Always cite all sources quoted or referenced in the book or paper.  
    • Look for: An extensive bibliography or footnotes listing all sources cited. 
  • Are generally published in peer-reviewed journals (articles) or (for books) by a university press or commercial publisher specializing in scholarly works. 
    • Look for: Scholarly journals and book are often published by a university press though some commercial presses also publish scholarly journals and books.  Scholarly journals will usually list the names and university affiliation of the individuals serving on the journal's editorial board. 

Non-Scholarly Sources

In contrast, non-scholarly sources (such as a magazine or newspaper article) are usually written for a non-academic audience and are not necessarily written by experts or scholars. 

Non-scholarly sources generally undergo a less rigorous publication process (no peer-review) and do not report original research findings or seek to contribute to the knowledge of a particular field of study.  Rather, they may be published to entertain or inform a general audience and may rely on opinion or personal views and not on relevant scholarship on the topic. 

Non-scholarly sources do not typically include a bibliography (or footnotes) comprised of all sources cited. 


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