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How do I know if a source is scholarly?
Articles published in scholarly journals are written for a scholarly audience. Often you may be required to use scholarly articles exclusively. Therefore, it is important that you be able to distinguish between scholarly articles and other types of articles.
Some general characteristics are:
Original research is reported
Scholarly sources are describing original research performed by the author/s, not reporting on research done by others.
Specialized knowledge is required and/or assumed
Scholarly sources are written by scholars to be read by other scholars. It is assumed that a reader will be an expert or specialist in the field.
Specialized vocabulary (jargon) and concepts are used without explanation or definition
It is assumed that a reader will be an expert or specialist in the field; if they don't already know a term or concept, they should know how to find (and learn) more.
Pictures are usually not included, and are only used in an informative context
Unless they are essential to the content being discussed, pictures are not included (exceptions are art journals and medical journals). Charts, graphs, and tables are commonly the only images found in scholarly sources, and are used to illustrate a concept and/or to present data.
Advertisements are not included
Scholarly publications (especially journals) are funded through subscriptions, not advertisements
Bibliographies / Works Cited are included
If a source does not contain a bibliography / works cited, chances are it is not a scholarly source.
In-text citations / footnotes / endnotes are used
Statements and statistics are always cited. As a reader, you should be able to use the in-text citations / footnotes / endnotes to check the accuracy and authority of the research.
When/Why do I use a scholarly source?
When you need a source that covers your material in depth.
Scholarly books are in-depth works with a unifying topic.
When you need a good source for background information.
Scholarly books don't have page limits--the author/s can provide excellent background information.
When you are researching in the humanities.
Scholarly books are the most important type of source for Literature, Philosophy, Art, etc.
When you need a source for qualitative research
Scholarly books are the most important type of source for qualitative studies in the social sciences (Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, etc.)
When you need research from an expert.
Scholarly books and articles clearly display the credentials and affiliations of all authors.
When you need information on a very specific topic.
Scholarly articles are narrowly focused on one small aspect of an academic subject or discipline.
When you need a source for the physical sciences.
Scholarly articles are the most important type of source for the physical sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.)
When you need a source for quantitative research
Scholarly articles are the most important type of source for quantitative studies in the social sciences (Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, etc.)
When you need scholarly analysis
Scholarly books and articles are the only sources of scholarly analysis.
Explore the image below -- mouseover the targets to learn more about the anatomy of a scholarly article. This example uses a scholarly article, but the elements discussed also apply to scholarly books.
Ayalon, Ofira, et al. Reduction of Plastic Carrier Bag Use: An Analysis of Alternatives in Israel." Waste Management New York, N.Y. 29.7 (2009): 2025-32. ScienceDirect. Web. 18 January 2013.