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Finding Articles: What is a Scholarly Article?

This guide will aid in finding scholarly articles from the databases available at Illinois College.

Scholarly Articles

Scholarly (sometimes called "peer reviewed") journal articles are excellent resources when seeking current, in-depth discussions of narrow topics; journal articles are typically not as helpful when seeking an overview or recap of a topic.

For example, you’ll find plenty of scholarly journal articles addressing the potential climatic impacts of nuclear war; you would find fewer journal articles addressing the history of nuclear war, however.

Scholarly vs. Popular

Scholarly journal articles differ from magazines/newspapers in that they are written by and for scholars (and not for the general public). See the following table to help your distinguish between scholarly and popular resources:

Scholarly (Journals) Popular (Magazines/Newspapers)
Written by scholars, academics, and researchers. Written by journalists, columnists, reporters, bloggers, etc.
Written for (and by) those with expertise in the field. Written for non-experts and the casually interested.
Thoroughly referenced, with credible and reputable sources. Sometimes referenced, but rarely with academic/scholarly sources.
Written to advance scholarship and academic knowledge. Written to entertain, inform, provoke, and make money.
Usually reviewed by academics and scholars (“peer-review”). Usually reviewed by an editor, though freelance work may be un-reviewed.
Examples: Annual Review of Psychology, Cinema Journal, American Journal of Education, Nature Examples: Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, The New Yorker

There are some other quick indicators that you can look at to help distinguish between a scholarly and a popular source. One of the first indicators will be the article's title -- a scholarly work will usually squeeze a lot of keywords into its title while a popular work will tend to be much more general. A reference list (bibliography/works cited) is also usually an indicator of an academic/scholarly work. The language of a scholarly work may also contain a lot of discipline-specific jargon, and may be denser than the language used in popular works intended to be read by a wide audience. Popular works tend to feature more photographs and pictures, while scholarly works may feature more diagrams. You might also ask yourself a question like, "Would I read this on the bus?" Of course, maybe you would study on the bus, but the general idea is to ask whether the source seems like a casual read or not.