Scholarly sources are high-quality publications written by academics, researchers, and other experts in a particular field of study. Many scholarly articles are vetted through a process called peer review. However, this editorial process is not mandatory for a source to be considered scholarly. Scholarly sources can include all types of materials, not just journal articles. Books, book chapters, and conference publications, for example, can all be considered scholarly in the right context.
The Association of College & Research Libraries defines scholarly communication as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use” (2006). Understanding this process is an important part of evaluating scholarly material. Having a contextual awareness of the publication lifecycle allows us to more accurately participate in the scholarly conversation.
Scholarly communication is frequently depicted as a lifecycle, detailing each step in the knowledge creation process. You can find these steps detailed below.
Libraries, as institutions, are heavily involved in steps four and five of this process. Librarians can help you access existing scholarship. Undergraduate students are typically entering this process at step six, reuse. However, as you grow as a scholar and continue on your academic journey, you may find that you are participating at every step. Understanding and contextualizing the labor that goes into each step of academic and scholarly publishing is a good first step toward learning to evaluate scholarly material.
In any field of study, you are entering into a rich field of existing discourse that is full of differing perspectives. Scholarship is collaborative and you, as a learner and emerging scholar, are entering the scholarly conversation through your participation in the academic research and writing process. When you approach scholarly (and non-scholarly) information, you should do so from a place of inquiry. Try to refrain from using research as a means to “prove” or “disprove” an existing point or conclusion. Let your research guide your line of questioning and use it to further explore topics that interest you. Approaching information critically and with an open, inquiring mind helps us make connections between ideas, analyze existing viewpoints, identify potential gaps in the research, and make informed, evidence-based decisions.
In the end, it is important to remember that research and writing aren’t meant to simply demonstrate understanding but should also serve as vehicles for additional learning. Engaging with scholarly material helps to ensure that continued learning is coming from established experts within your discipline.
You can learn more about how to approach your research from a place of inquiry on our Research and Academic Inquiry page.
Fact: not all assignments require the use of scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. For example, a company analysis may require you to gather company or industry reports, market information, or even news articles--none of which is categorized as "scholarly" but all of which would be appropriate to use for a company analysis project.
Scholarly materials are generally only used for very specific types of assignments. Even in these assignments, it is okay to use a variety of source types: scholarly, popular, etc.
When approaching an assignment or task, keep the context of the course in mind as well as your intended audience and personal learning goals. Different disciplines have varying approaches to research and writing. Read your assignment closely to determine what types of materials are required, and communicate openly with your instructor about expectations for the course. For more practical tips, please see:
Detailed, active reading is an important step in evaluating scholarly sources. Annotate and keep notes as you read the source. Mark the main thesis or problem, make note of key claims, and write down anything that you find unclear or feel is missing from the text. This will not only help you keep track of research you are reading, but it will also help you organize your own thoughts. For more practical research tips, please see:
Does your assignment require peer reviewed sources?
You can read more about how to check for peer review on the following page:
Unsure about the reputation or reliability of a specific journal?
Learn how to determine a journal's impact factor at the below link.
Keep in mind that measuring impact in this way is limited and may not capture the full range of important scholarship contributions, especially if those contributions don't rely on traditional publishing practices.
What is a Predatory Publisher?
While it is good to aim for scholarly materials, be aware that not all journals that call themselves "scholarly" are ethical in their publishing practices. There is a category of pseudo-academic journals that will charge authors a fee for publication. This is an unethical practice, as these journals already profit off the intellectual property of the authors they publish. In addition, these journals will often lie about their publishing habits, their peer review processes, and will make a point to overstate where they are "indexed" (database collections, Google Scholar, etc.).
You, as both a consumer and creator of scholarly content, should avoid using predatory journals in your work. You can read more about how to spot predatory publishing here:
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