Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Dec 05, 2022     Views: 44194

"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.  Some typical scholarly resources 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 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.
  •  Encyclopedias.  The content is written by an academic for an academic audience and would qualify as scholarly.  While entries are reviewed by an editorial board, they are not "peer-reviewed."

How can you tell if an article, book, or web page 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 researcher  who works at a university or a research institute.  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).   Check it for accuracy and bias.
  • Audience:  Scholarly articles are written for professionals in the field. You will probably notice a lot of technical languages 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 usually 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.).  Be sure that the publisher is not biased.
     
  • Purpose and scope.  When you're on a website (whether for a journal, publisher, or organization), look for an "about" link to learn who the intended audience is and what kind of information is published.
     

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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