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How Do I… Determine if a Source is Scholarly?

You might occasionally hear your instructors mention that you need to find “scholarly” sources. What does that mean?

The sources you find while researching can generally be placed into two different categories: popular and scholarly.

The term scholarly typically means that the source has been “peer-reviewed,” which is a lengthy editing and review process performed by scholars in the field to check for quality and validity. To determine if your source has been peer-reviewed, you can investigate the journal in which the article was published. Try going to the journal’s website and finding information about their submission & revision guidelines, or search the journal title in Ulrich’s to learn more about it.


Examine the chart and examples below to see other characteristics you can use to determine if a source is popular or scholarly.

Trait Popular Scholarly
Authors Journalists or freelance writers Academics or researchers (credentials listed)
Audience General public Researchers, academics,  college students
Editing Process Sometimes edited by staff Peer-reviewed before publication
Appearance Contains photos, illustrations, meant to entertain, shorter in length Contains charts, graphs, references, meant to inform, longer in length
Examples Newsweek, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, websites Journal of Evolutionary Biology, JAMA, The Journal of Popular Culture


Example of a Scholarly Source:

Scholarly source laid out to emphasize objective, methods, a table, discussion, and references

Examples of a Popular Source:

Popular source example from The View magazine with cartoon graphics, advertisement, numbered lists, and large photograph


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