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Scholarly Sources: The Guide

This guide contains an explanation of scholarly sources.

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Characteristics of Scholarly Sources

Scholarly Sources: Characteristics

Here are a few common characteristics of scholarly sources:

  • They're written by experts and scholars. The author is always named and sometimes the research institution is listed too.
  • They're written for other experts, scholars, and students.
  • They're published by scholarly presses, such as universities and colleges.
  • They cite their sources. You'll find a bibliography, list of references, footnotes, or works cited.
  • They're authoritative (i.e., can be trusted) because they're written by experts and cite their sources.
  • The authors use specialized language and jargon of the field.
  • They usually describe original research.
  • They usually undergo a peer review process. They're screened so that only the best research gets published.

Library databases can make it easy to find scholarly sources -- click on the "How to Find Them" tab above for more information.

Examples of Scholarly Sources

Why Use Scholarly Sources?

Why use Scholarly Sources?

There are a variety of reasons to use scholarly sources: 

  • Your instructor may require that you use academic or peer-reviewed resources so that you can have more of an academic understanding of what scholars are saying about a topic.
  • Scholarly sources are considered very credible and contribute a great deal to the overall quality of your papers.
  • Not all information is created equal.  While scholarly sources are considered to be quality information, it is up to you to use your best judgment to determine the worth, validity, and merit of a work.

What are Scholarly Sources?

What are Scholarly Sources?

Different types of sources are useful for different purposes. It's useful to categorize sources into these three main categories. 

  • Scholarly (also called academic or peer-reviewed)
  • Trade (also called professional) 
  • Popular

See the chart below for more details on how the three sources differ. 

Popular vs Scholarly vs Trade Sources


Scholarly *



Staff writers and journalists

Scholars/researchers Professionals in the field

General public

Scholars, including college students People employed in the field
Reviewed by


Editorial board made up of other scholars and researchers Editor with credentials or experience in the field
Article style/purpose

Shorter articles written to entertain, inform or elicit an emotional response

Longer articles written in a formal, scholarly style to share facts and research with the academic community Shorter articles written to focus on topics of interest and keep readers up-to-date in the field
Documentation / Citation


Footnotes/endnotes; bibliographies Varies

Usually published frequently (weekly or monthly)

Usually published less frequently (quarterly, semi-annually) Varies Monthly or Bimonthly
Advertisements Numerous ads for a variety
of products
If there are any ads, they are usually for scholarly products such as books Some advertising for vendors marketing to people in that field
Illustrations Usually numerous Fewer, and often include charts and graphs to support research findings Usually numerous

Usually glossy and larger in size

Usually smaller in size, thicker and with a plain cover Usually glossy, but less flashy than popular sources

Time, Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, New Yorker(magazines you may subscribe to or buy at a newsstand)

Journal of Southern History, Annual Review of Psychology, American Literature, New England Journal of Medicine National Paralegal Reporter, CMA Today, Personal Fitness Professional, Selling Power

*Scholarly sources may also be referred to as academic, peer-reviewed or refereed.

"Popular Magazines vs. Scholarly Journals". (2005 July 15). University of Texas Libraries. Retrieved 7 Oct. 2005 from

Tips on knowing the difference:

  • Academic journals often have the word “Journal” in the title and have few illustrations
  • Popular magazines often have the word “magazine” in the title and have many illustrations, pictures, and ads
  • Trade magazines are written for people working in a specific field
  • Example:

    You are writing a paper about eating disorders among college-aged women. Both popular and scholarly sources may be useful for this paper. 

    Popular sources: Use women's magazines to find personal narratives by college-aged women with eating disorders. 

    Scholarly sources: Use scholarly journals to find an article by a psychologist reporting findings from a research study of the causes of eating disorders among college-aged women.