How do you identify a scholarly source?

Are you unsure if your source is a scholarly source? Asking the following questions can help differentiate scholarly from non-scholarly articles:

  • Author: Is the author a scholar? Are the authors' name and credentials provided? Also check if the author lists their affiliations (universities, hospitals, research institutions, think thanks, ...).
Author affiliations of a scholarly article
The authors of this scholarly article all have affiliations at a University.
  • Publisher: Who is the publisher of the information? Is the journal publishing peer-reviewed articles? Is the date of publication evident? Either do a fact check on the website of the journal or publisher, or check if the journal is indexed in bibliographic databases like PubMed, Web of Science or Scopus.
  • Content: Who is the intended audience of the article? Check if the article is research-based and aims at creating new knowledge or if the purpose is merely to persuade, report, entertain or inform the audience.
  • Language: Review the language and tone of the article. Is the language of the article formal, technical and that of the discipline covered?
  • Structure: Does the article have an abstract or descriptive summary of the article contents? How does the article look overall, does it have charts, graphs and tables? Check if the article is well structured, if any research carried out is well documented and if the conclusions are based on evidence.
  • References: Are sources cited in the form of footnotes or bibliographies?
Bibliography of a scholarly article
At the end of a scholarly articles there is usually a list of references or a bibliography that contains the full bibliographic data of the references referred to in the text.

The Library at the University of Illinois offers a flowchart to help you determine if your source is scholarly by answering a couple of questions in three steps.

Frequently Asked Questions about identifying scholarly sources

🥑 What is a scholarly source?

A scholarly sources (also called academic, peer-reviewed or refereed sources) are written by and for faculty, researchers or scholars. When we speak about scholarly sources here we mostly speak about scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, but they can be anything from books to conference publications, either electronic or print-based. These sources will provide the most substantial information for your research.

🥭 Which elements define a scholarly source?

Scholarly sources contain the following elements:

  • The authors are scholars or researchers with known affiliations and credentials.
  • The language used is academic and complex, and often the language of the discipline is used.
  • The article contains full citations to other scholarly sources
  • Scholarly articles are often peer reviewed by specialists before being accepted for publication.
  • The publisher is a scholarly press with editorial reviews to ensure quality of the content.
  • The intended audience are other faculty, researchers or scholars.
🍓 How is a non-scholarly source defined?

Non-scholarly sources are written by non-academics, and they can be primary sources, news sources, data and statistical publications, book reviews or editorials.

🥔 Which elements define a non-scholarly source?

Non-scholarly sources contain the following elements:

  • They are written for a general audience and broad readership
  • They are opinion based
  • The language used is non-technical
  • They are not reviewed by other specialists before publication
  • They lack references to other sources
🍍 Can I use both scholarly and non-scholarly sources in my paper?

You can definitively use scholarly sources in your paper. As for non-scholarly sources, you probably can use them too. Make sure to check with your supervisor first if using non-scholarly sources is allowed.