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HIS 213, South: What Is a Scholarly Source?

Use this guide to get started on HIS 213 20th Century World History papers and projects

Image: Scholarly Journals


What is a Scholarly Article? What is a Scholarly Source?

When using the term "scholarly article", it refers to a research article that is published in a recognized scholarly source, like a journal or a university published book (or similar publisher).

The key in looking for an article/content from a scholarly source is to identify the standards or criteria used to ensure that the article is of a high standard.  Sometimes we just trust the reputation of a journal or publisher, and sometimes we actually look for a statement about the review process.  Magazines, in general, do not have a review process, and their material is meant for a wider audience.  It may be valuable, but it is not scholarly.

How do you tell the difference between a scholarly source and other sources?
The University of Central Florida has a
chart that provides differences between scholarly journals and popular magazines.  

Here are a few other tips about scholarly sources:

Journal Articles

  • Is the journal published by a scholarly association or society, or a university, or a recognized scholarly publisher?  If it is not one of these, then it may not be a scholarly journal.  Most journals will have the word “journal” in its title, but not always!   Refer to the aforementioned chart for evaluation criteria.

  • Are the articles reviewed in some way?  The print journal itself may have a statement in its title page, but sometimes the journal article may make mention of its reviewing policy.  In a database article, go to the “Detailed Record”.  If there is no mention of a review process, then click the “Source” (title of journal) or if available, the “Publisher URL” in the detailed record.  There may be some information.
  • What are the articles like?   Are they written for an academic audience, or for a popular audience?   How do they use evidence or support?   Are the citations clear and abundant (in general - not every article will necessarily be like this).


Peer-Reviewed Articles

Peer-reviewed articles are also found in journals, but go a step further. 
Peer review is an editorial process in which these articles are reviewed by an editor and other specialists before being accepted for publication.   As you see in this image to the right, peer-reviewed articles are scholarly, but not all scholarly articles are peer-reviewed.



The same thing applies about book publishers - there are some recognized academic publishers that regularly send work to peer reviewers before it is published.  Some of these are university presses (Oxford, Penn State, etc.); others are not associated with universities, but are still excellent academic publishers (Routledge, Springer, Blackwell, Palgrave Macmillan, etc.).

Are internet sources scholarly?

Now, what about sources from the internet?  These can be more challenging.  There are a few scholarly journals that publish a web version, and in some cases they only publish a web version.  Here’s an example of a web-based journal:  The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 

Many times when you do find articles online with the help of a search engine, the website may charge a fee. 
Best bet:  use your library’s article databases. They are credible resources.

How about online reference works like Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica?  

Let's look at Wikipedia first:
Remember: A wiki is a community-edited document, one which anyone can add to or change.  That's not exactly scholarly or peer-reviewed, because the reviewers aren't necessarily people who have studied an area.  However, Wikipedia might give you ideas to follow up elsewhere.  

Encyclopedia Britannica:
It has a real editorial staff, and high quality articles.  It is, however, a general encyclopedia, and so its purpose is to meet the needs of a general audience, not a specialist audience.

There are specialized subject encyclopedias in libraries such as The Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies or The Encyclopedia of the American Military; but are they and/or others scholarly?   Some are and some are not.  Use the aforementioned chart to examine and verify. 

You should be quite suspicious of other works on the web.  Just typing something into Google, Bing, or any other search engine will not consistently give you reliable results.  You might, though, look for portal pages for particular topics or issues.  Or conduct an advanced search where you can select more credible domains (.edu, .gov, etc.).
Sometimes academic libraries will make pages of the best resources on the web (refer to CCAC Libraries’ subject guides, and course guides including HIS 104 and 105 guides).  The websites included in the guides can be useful, but even some of these selected web sources may not be considered scholarly.

Many students are tempted to do all their work with all websites.  This is a mistake.  Even with a lot of work being put on the web, there is no substitute for the academic library and its resources.  Make sure to use it.

Most content taken from

What's the Difference Between Scholarly and Popular Sources?

The following tutorial content, chart, and video will help you understand the difference between scholarly and popular sources, and what you should be looking for to determine if an article from various sources is scholarly.

First, take a look at the iCONNECT tutorial, Step 4: Evaluate.   This module provides information on evaluating specific sources (books, articles, and websites) to determine if they are credible.

The following chart is taken from the Step 4: Evaluate module.  It lists criteria that can be used to tell whether you have an article from a scholarly journal or from a popular magazine. Most of the criteria listed for scholarly journal articles can also be applied to books and Internet resources to help determine their value. The more criteria your resource has listed under the Scholarly Journals column, the more likely it will be a good, credible resource.

Scholarly Journals

Popular Magazines

Lengthy, detailed articles Brief articles
References and resources listed References and resources seldom given
Graphs, charts, usually no photographs Photographs
Articles written by an expert, always signed (author's name listed) Articles usually written by staff or freelance writer, frequently unsigned (author's name not listed)
Credentials of author listed Credentials usually unlisted
Aimed at people in the field Aimed at general public
Few or no ads Lots of Ads
May be peer reviewed Not peer reviewed

scholarly journalExample Scholarly Journals:

Journal of Applied Psychology


Modern Fiction Studies


popular magazineExample Popular Magazines:


Reader's Digest




"Scholarly and Popular Sources" Video from Carnegie Vincent Library:

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