How to identify a scholarly source

Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed) are written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news. These resources will provide the most substantial information for your research and papers.

Peer-reviewed or refereed sources have undergone the review and scrutiny of a review board of colleagues in the author’s field. They evaluate this source as part of the body of research for a particular discipline and make recommendations regarding its publication in a journal, revisions prior to publication, or, in some cases, reject its publication.

Researchers often use scholarly and peer-reviewed sources because of the level of authority and credibility evident in scholarly sources they contribute a great deal to the overall quality of your papers. Use of scholarly sources is an expected attribute of academic course work.


The purpose of scholarly publications is to:

  • Inform or report on original research or ideas
  • Disseminate knowledge in a particular discipline
  • Review current literature on a topic
  • Provide in-depth treatment of a topic

Possible formats for scholarly sources include: journal articles, books, book chapters or essays.  Here is a check list of attributes to consider when trying to identify scholarly resources:

 CHARACTERISTICS  COMMON FEATURES  HOW TO VERIFY
 Authorship
  • Scholar(s) or researcher(s)
  • Authority in the field
  • Affiliated with a university or institution
  • Articles are signed (i.e. responsibility for the work is taken through authorship)
  • Look for author affiliation on the publication (correspondence or contact address)
  • If no author information is provided, search Google for the author and limit to an education domain: e.g. Mary Smith site:.edu [This will search for Mary Smith on college and university websites.]
  • Search one of our many biographical resources for scholars and researchers.
 Publisher
  •  Journal is peer-reviewed/refereed
  •  Publisher is typically a university press, professional organisation or reputable commercial publisher
  • Learn more about a journal’s publishing process by reading the ‘author’s instructions’ for submitting manuscripts
  • Search the title of the journal in UlrichsWeb Global Serials Directory.  Look for the black/white ‘referee shirt’ icon next to the title, which indicates the publication is peer-reviewed.
  • Read about the publisher to learn more (commercial, non-profit, academic, discipline specific, etc.)
 References/Documentation
  • Sources always cited
  • Extensive information sources in footnotes, endnotes or bibliographies
  • Look for in-text citations
  • Look for references in footnotes, endnotes and/or a bibliography
 Content/Language
  • Uses terminology and jargon from the discipline
  • Assumes the reader has some subject knowledge
  • Articles are often lengthy and comprehensive
  • Look at the structure of the work.
  • Is there an abstract?
  • Can you identify the author’s thesis/argument?
  • Does the work detail methodology or experimental results?
  • Is the author objective and balanced?
  • Is there a thorough discussion or conclusion?
  • Is the work well-organised?
 Audience
  • Written for other scholars, researchers, faculty and students in the discipline
  • Does the author use formal or technical terminology?
  • Does the author assume the reader has some subject knowledge?
 Graphics/Illustrations
  • Often have illustrations such as charts, graphs or other illustrative images
  • Rarely have glossy photographs and advertisements
  • Are there charts, maps, graphs, photographs or other illustrations?
  • If so, are they important for understanding of the research or discussion?
 Author’s work cited
  • After an article or book is published, other scholars may ‘cite’ that work when conducting their own researcher.
  • Search for an article or chapter title in Google Scholar or Web of Science.  Look at the ‘cited by’ or ‘times cited’ statistics.  This will let you know who has cited something since it was published.
 Author’s work reviewed
  • Scholarly books are often thoroughly reviewed after publication.
  • Search for book reviews in databases focused on the broad discipline of the book (e.g. Sociological Abstracts, Web of Science, Humanities Abstracts, etc.)  There is usually a way to limit to ‘book reviews’ in your search.
  • Search for reviews in one of the databases focused on book reviews.

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Starting Your Research by University of California Santa Cruz, University Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.  Some content has been modified to suit the curricular and research needs of Yale-NUS College.  All changes are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.