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What is a scholarly source? Examples, resources and more

At a glance

  • A scholarly source discusses research in a particular academic, clinical or scientific field.
  • Using scholarly sources lends credibility, authority and impartiality to your research.
  • A process called peer review is considered the gold standard in scholarly or academic sources.
  • At University of Phoenix, the Research Center Enterprise helms multidisciplinary research in areas such as leadership, workplace diversity and other real-world issues. 

Whether you’re working on a college paper, a corporate annual report or a blog post, your credibility can hinge on the sources you choose to research and substantiate your claims. There’s a big jump from a Twitter thread to a scholarly source.

What makes a source scholarly? Read on to learn how to tell if a source is scholarly. Plus, learn how to find these sources, discover why you’d use them, and hear from academics who have written them. 

What is a scholarly journal?

A scholarly journal — also sometimes called a scholarly source or an academic journal — presents and discusses research in a particular academic, clinical or scientific field.

Examples of scholarly sources are:

  • Journals
  • Books
  • Conference presentations
  • Video lectures

“When I think of scholarly material, I think it’s essentially written by scholars for scholars,” says Shawn Boone, EdD, associate dean of research at the College of Doctoral Studies at University of Phoenix (UOPX).

There you have it! Scholarly sources defined.

But wait. Finding trusted and quality sources can be intimidating. Don’t worry. A University of Phoenix faculty member who writes scholarly articles offers hacks for how students and non-scholars can make journals work for them.

First, however, another definition is needed.

What is a peer-reviewed source?

Often scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. A peer-reviewed source is one that’s been vetted (reviewed) by other experts (peers) in the field.

Peer-reviewed journals are also sometimes called refereed journals. In this case the “referees” are reviewers who are tasked with filtering out poor quality, flawed methodology and a lack of rigor.

According to Wiley, a publisher of peer-reviewed journals, the peer review process is designed to assess the validity, quality and originality of articles for publication.

Boone, who has both published scholarly articles and served as a peer reviewer, looks for these criteria when he’s reviewing:

  • Rigor in design strategy
  • Continuity of theory
  • Absence of confirmation bias
  • Credibility
  • Validity
  • Writing quality

The process of peer review is not without criticism, namely that peer reviewers sometimes reject innovative ideas, thus potentially leading to conformity of thought. Plus, in the case of something new like COVID-19, researchers are tasked with building the plane while they’re flying it — conducting research on a phenomenon about which little is known.  

Despite flaws, peer-reviewed publications are widely considered the gold standard among scholarly sources.

Examples of peer-reviewed sources are:

Ready to dive into the world of research through a doctoral program? Here are five things to know before you start.

Why use scholarly sources?

Credibility: If you’re a student writing a research paper, scholarly sources help establish credibility.

Authority: A scholarly source can lend more authority than a news report or book. While a journalist or author might interview experts, a scholarly source actually is an expert.

Impartiality: A scholarly source offers findings that have been authenticated and should be free of confirmation bias.

This latter point is critical, says Rodney Luster, PhD, a widely published researcher, a regular contributor to Psychology Today, and chair of the Center for Leadership Studies and Organizational Research at UOPX.

“We’re all passionate about the things we want to write about,” Luster says. “If we’re not careful, confirmation bias — interpreting new findings as confirmation of our beliefs — can creep in.”

True scholarly sources don’t allow this to happen.

How to use scholarly sources

So, maybe you’re convinced. Scholarly sources are the way to go next time you’ve got a research-based project to submit.

But how in the world do you cite them? After all, if you’re like most people, terms like regression analysis, research methodology and theoretical constructs are enough to make the eyes glaze over.

Luster has good news. Three basic components of scholarly research may offer the takeaways you’ll need to effectively (and intelligently!) cite scholarly sources:

  • The title. Often the major finding or idea is expressed here.
  • The abstract. A summary of the research, an abstract conveys the starting point, what researchers were looking for and what they concluded.
  • The conclusion. The researchers explain what they found, perhaps even telling the industry what needs to happen (e.g., action or more research).

How to tell if a source is scholarly

If you’re wondering how to tell if a source is scholarly, these characteristics are shared by scholarly references:

  • The source informs or reports on research or ideas (rather than attempting to sway opinion or entice the reader to purchase a product).
  • Authors are clearly identified, and they have authority or expertise in their field.
  • Sources are always cited, usually in an extensive bibliography.
  • Methodology is outlined.

It’s important to note that not all journals are scholarly. Some are “predatory,” meaning they require authors to “pay to play” — they charge a fee for authors to have their research published. Avoid these. You can spot them by looking for the publication’s submission requirements.

(Note: “Pay for play” is different from an “open-access” article, which is when the author pays a fee to allow the article to be accessible to the public rather than accessible by subscription only.)

Most scholarly sources offer clues about their validity. Look for these criteria:

  • The masthead or journal description says “peer-reviewed.”
  • Journals request three copies of submissions (likely to go to peer reviewers).
  • Researchers in that field write the articles.
  • References are clearly listed in a bibliography.
  • Journal articles generally follow this format: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, references.
  • There’s no advertising.

Examples of scholarly sources

With scholarly source websites, it’s easier now than ever before to find the research you need to support your project.

Google Scholar is a powerful resource for finding scholarly sources in your area of interest. Enter “headaches,” and 824,000 articles will appear in 0.03 seconds. (That actually kind of triggers a headache, doesn’t it?)

If you’re a student looking to write a well-informed paper sourced by experts, other tools can help. Here are some ideas:

Frequently asked questions about academic sources

What is a scholarly source?

A scholarly source presents and discusses research in a particular academic, clinical or scientific field. It does not attempt to persuade to an opinion, and it does not encourage readers to purchase a product.

What is a scholarly journal?

A scholarly journal publishes scholarship related to a particular field (e.g., medicine) or academic discipline (e.g., leadership studies). Peer-reviewed scholarly journals provide extra scrutiny of articles for quality and validity. 

Is .org a scholarly source?

No. Often websites ending in .org may be credible. Generally, however, .org sites are nonprofit entities with a specific mission. Nonprofit entities with a .org domain might lead you to scholarly sources if they cite studies with a list of authors.

Is NPR a scholarly source?

No. NPR and other news agencies report the news, sometimes with bias. They may interview experts, but a true scholarly source will be written by an expert.

How do I use scholarly sources?

Scholarly sources are generally written for other scholars, but don’t let that deter you from mining them and citing them. The abstract and conclusion sections may lend solid information to your project.

University of Phoenix offers a workshop called Dissertation to Publication for students interested in publishing their doctoral dissertation in a peer-reviewed journal. Learn more.