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Scholarly Articles

Scholarly Articles Defined

Scholarly articles (also known as academic or peer-reviewed articles) are written by experts for experts (and for college students!). Scholarly articles usually contain cited references and are often written in specialized, technical language. They are in-depth explorations of focused topics, and because they’ve been through an intensive review process before publication, they are highly trustworthy sources. 

Learn more at What Is a Refereed/Peer-Reviewed Article.

How to Find Scholarly Articles

Almost every library database has a way to limit your keyword search so that you retrieve only scholarly articles. Look for checkboxes marked “scholarly” or “academic” or “peer-reviewed”: 

A screenshot of the OneSearch search box from the library homepage showing the "Scholarly journals only" checkbox has been selected.

A screenshot of the Refine Results side menu within a library database showing the "Peer-reviewed (Scholarly) Journals" limiter has been selected.

How Do I Tell if an Article Is Scholarly?

With practice, you can tell at a glance if an article is scholarly. Look for these characteristics of a scholarly article: 

  • Specialized, technical-sounding language 
    • Even the title of a scholarly article may sound complicated—much more complicated than a news headline, for example 
  • In-text citations throughout the article and a list of references at the end 
  • Author affiliations 
    • The library database will usually show where the authors of an article work. 
    • Scholarly articles are often written by people at research institutions, like a university or think tank or laboratory. 
  • Scientific scholarly articles typically follow this structure: 
    • Abstract 
    • Introduction 
    • Methods 
    • Results 
    • Discussion 
    • Literature Cited 
  • For more info on the structure and characteristics of a scholarly article, see Anatomy of a Scholarly Article 
  • Many library databases will indicate whether an article (or the journal it appeared in) is scholarly. And remember, “peer reviewed” and “academic” mean the same thing as “scholarly”: 

A screenshot of an article result in OneSearch where the label "PEER REVIEWED" is visible and highlighted.

Distinguishing among Scholarly, Popular, and Trade Journals offers more help understanding the differences between scholarly, popular, and trade journals.

Reading and Using Scholarly Articles

Because they usually are written by experts, in specialized/technical language, scholarly articles can be hard to read! But if you review one carefully, even if you don’t understand every detail, you should be able to extract from the article one or two main ideas or facts that you can incorporate into your research project. 

In a scientific scholarly article, there may be terms you don’t understand—Google them! Also, a scientific article may contain complicated numerical/statistical data that’s hard for non-experts to understand. But again, you don’t have to understand every detail of the article to be able to use it! 

Try reviewing the Introduction section and Discussion section of a scientific article. That’s where the authors lay out the purpose of their research and the importance of what they discovered—you can often extract main ideas and interesting facts from those sections.