What Makes It Scholarly?

So your professor has specified that you are to use only scholarly (or peer-reviewed or refereed or academic) articles in your paper. What does that mean?

Most scholarly or academic articles are peer-reviewed. When a scholar submits an article to a peer-reviewed journal, it is then sent to other scholars in a similar field to read it and decide if the research is valid and that the article should be published. The reviewers may also be called referees. Typically the reviewers indicate to the journal editors whether they think the article should be accepted, sent back for revisions, or rejected.

Government documents, reports from organizations (no matter how good), editorials, opinion pieces, or websites are NOT scholarly articles. Even highly respected peer-reviewed journal like Science, JAMA and Nature have items such as editorials that are not acceptable for your purposes.

To decide whether an article is peer-reviewed, look for the following:

  • The author’s (or authors') credentials and academic affiliation(s) should be given;
  • There should be an Abstract summarizing the research;
  • The Materials and Methods used should be given, often in a separate section;
  • There are citations within the text or footnotes referencing sources used;
  • Results of the research are given;
  • There should be Conclusions at the end;
  • There is a bibliography or list of references.

You can limit your search results to peer-reviewed or refereed in many databases. In HOLLIS+. After you do a search (remember to sign in!), look on the right side; under Show Only there is a link to limit to Peer-reviewed articles. (But remember: even though a journal is peer-reviewed, not all the items in it will be. For instance, there might be editorials, short reports, etc.).

How do you find peer-reviewed journals? Check in the e-resource Ulrichsweb: Global Serials Directory. There will be a little graphic of a referee's shirt . (But again, remember that not everything in a peer-reviewed journal is actually peer-reviewed!)

Harvard subscribes to many databases and most of them indicate whether items are peer-reviewed or not. Generally you can limit your search as you can in HOLLIS+.

Tempting as it may be to use Google, remember that the results Google brings to the top are based on page rank; they may get a lot of hits, but that doesn't mean that they are accurate or reliable, let alone scholarly. Use Google Scholar through Harvard instead.

Wikipedia is okay for just getting a general idea of what something is, but it is not a reliable resource. It may give references to scholarly articles, but definitely double-check and read them. Try looking for them in HOLLIS+.