Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Oct 26, 2016     Views: 6910

"Scholarly" and "peer reviewed" are often used synonymously, but they are not necessarily the same thing.   Peer reviewed articles are always scholarly, but not all scholarly sources are peer reviewed.   It may seem confusing, but it makes more sense if you think of "scholarly" as an umbrella term for several different kinds of authoritative, credible sources.  These include:

  • Peer reviewed journals.  These journals primarily exist to publish the research findings of experts in a field. The articles that you see in these journals have been closely scrutinized by a panel of reviewers (also experts in the same field) before they are published.   Read more about the peer review process here.
  • Trade or professional journals or magazines.  The articles in these periodicals are also written by and for experts, but there is no peer review.  The articles aren't limited to research...they may be news, best practice tips or opinion pieces. 
  • Government publications.  Many government agencies publish books, reports, data or statistics.  Government researchers, like those who publish in peer reviewed or trade journals, are often experts in their field.
  • Books.   Many researchers publish books or book chapters.   Click here to find out how to tell if a book is scholarly or not.

How can you tell if an article is scholarly?  You will have to do some detective-work, but there are some telltale signs:

  • Author(s): Ideally, you should rely on information that has been published by an expert..someone who has studied the topic long and hard.    Most scholarly publications will list an author's credentials (their degrees -- M.S., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc. -  and the institution that they work for) along with his or her name.
  • Content:  Look for articles that cover a topic in detail (more than just a few pages long, typically).   It will probably include some kind of literature review, and discuss the work of other authors, in addition to any original research findings.  Make sure it cites its sources (a scholarly article will always have a "references," "bibliography" or "works cited" list). 
  • Audience:  Scholarly articles are written for professionals in the field.  You will probably notice a lot of technical language and/or discipline-specific jargon.  The tone will be formal.
  • Publisher.  Visit the journal's website to see what organization publishes it.  Professional associations, universities and government agencies are particularly good signs.  As you become more experienced, you'll also start to recognize major publishing companies in your field of study (Wiley, Elsevier, Sage, etc.).
  • Purpose and scope.  When you're on the journal's website, look for an "about" link to learn who the intended audience is and what kind of articles are accepted.

With the APUS Library's databases, you can limit your searches to scholarly and/or peer reviewed articles -- a big time saver!  Click here to learn how.

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