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What Are Scholarly Journal Articles?

A guide that explains in plain language what scholarly articles are and what peer review is.

Scholarly Journals & Scholarly Articles

Scholarly journals specialize in publishing technical and research-oriented articles, and are mostly intended for students and other scholars. Because journal articles are oftened accessed individually online, here are some clues to look for when identifying them:

What do scholary articles (also called "empirical research articles" or "peer-review articles") look like?

  • Authors of the articles are scholars, researchers and experts within the field. Their credentials will be given.
  • The articles are typically quite long, usually 8 pages or more.
  • Technical language or jargon is used.
  • Articles are typically "peer-reviewed" meaning a group of other experts in the field reviewed the article before publication.

Use the acronym IMRaD to remember the major sections found in a scholarly article:

  • An abstract summarizing the research and findings
  • An Introduction stating the problem
  • A Methods section that describing how the problem was studied
  • A Results section reporting the findings, And
  • A Discussion explaining the implications of the findings
  • A list of cited works or bibliography

How to Find Peer-Reviewed Articles

Some databases allow you to limit your search to "peer-reviewed" results only. However, be aware that peer-reviewed journals also contain articles that are not peer reviewed, such as editorials, letters, or book reviews. (Find a shortened printable version here.)

1. EBSCOHost databases are a great place to start searching for peer-review articles. Select Academic Search Elite, CINHAL, and/or Science Full Text Select then click "Continue".

2. On the search page type in the keywords (only the most important terms) for the subject you're searching for. Then check the box for "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals" in the "Search Options” section. This means your search results will only show those articles that were published in Peer-reviewed Journals.

 3. You can now browse the results for articles that look interesting. Most of the articles are available full-text online, so the whole article is right there under the "full text" link along the left side of the page.

4. Two other nice features on EBSCOhost: First, you can limit your results by the year published along the left side of the results page:

Second, you can have EBSCOhost create a citation for you. Although not always 100% accurate, it's still a useful tool! Access this tool on the detailed record page for any article, along the right side of the page:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are scholarly journals, research journals, and peer-reviewed journals the same?

  All 3 terms are often used interchangeably, however:

  • A peer-reviewed journal is scholarly, but not all scholarly journals are peer-reviewed.
  • Not all articles in a peer-reviewed journal go through the peer-review process. For example, editorials, book reviews or letters are often not peer-reviewed.

Are scholarly articles primary sources or secondary sources?

Research articles are usually primary sources. That is, the authors are reporting directly on research or experiments they’ve conducted, and not reporting it second-hand. However some scholarly articles are secondary, because they summarize the published research on a certain topic. 

How can I tell if an article is a peer-reviewed?

First, find out if the journal in which the article appears is peer-reviewed. Second, be aware that peer-reviewed journals also contain articles that are not peer reviewed, such as editorials, letters, or book reviews.

There are two ways to find out if a journal if peer-reviewed or not.
1) Visit the journal website. Peer-reviewed journals are usually good at making it clear that they are peer-reviewed.
Some databases provide such informaiton.

EBSCOHost databases (Academic Search Elite, CINHAL with Full Text, etc)
On the search result page, click on an article title to see the the record of this article and click on the title of the journal (called the "Source").  Then look for the "Peer review" heading towards the bottom of the page.

WilsonWeb Science Full-text Select
On the search result page, click on an article title to see the the record of this article.
Then look for the "Peer reviewed Journal" heading below the Abstract and Subject(s).

Three-minute Video on Peer Review

An important characteristic of scholarly journals is the process of peer review. Before being accepted for publication, scholarly articles are evaluated and reviewed by experts on the topic. 

Still have questions about peer review? Watch this 3-minute video created by North Carolina State University.

It covers how peer-reviewed articles are different from other types of publications, how peer-reviewed articles are tied to teaching and learning activities on college campuses, and where to go for help in finding peer-reviewed articles.

Printable guides

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