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Evaluating Resources: Academic Research

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Researchers may choose or be required to limit their periodical sources to scholarly journals. But it is not always easy to identify a periodical as scholarly. The following general guidelines should address many of these concerns. However, students are advised to ask their professors about considerations specific to a particular discipline.

Scholarly journals differ from popular magazines in a variety of ways. Here are some of the distinguishing characteristics:

Scholarly Journals

Popular Magazines

Contain more specialized subject matter

Contain more general subject matter

Articles include footnotes or endnotes and a list of references or works cited.

Rarely include bibliographies or notes.

Articles report on research

Articles may be oriented toward general information or entertainment

Articles almost always will be "refereed" (reviewed by a group of scholars in the field prior to publication); the term "peer review" is also used.

No refereeing process

Authors always identified; usually subject experts

Authors may not be identified; generally reporters/journalists

Articles often use terminology specific to a particular discipline

Articles use language suitable to a more general audience, of varying educational levels

Graphics generally used for purposes of illustration or to convey data

Graphics and photos are common, used for impact and appeal as well as illustration

Little or no advertising in most disciplines

Advertising pervasive

These guidelines are a starting point for those browsing articles. Some of our database services, such as ScholarSearchAcademic Search Premier and Proquest, allow you to limit your search to Academic/Scholarly journals (click the tab/link for Academic/Scholarly Journals and/or choose the document type Scholarly Journals). Many of the subject indexes/databases that the library subscribes to cover primarily scholarly journals.

Looking at the Guidelines for Authors in the journal issues (or on the journal's website) is often a good way to determine whether a publication is scholarly, and further whether it is refereed/peer reviewed. However, if you are not sure, you can consult the Library's reference collection.

Students may want to confer with their professors about use of a particular source for a given assignment, and the reference staff is always glad to assist with questions about determining scholarly journal status.

In many cases, you'll see references to scholarly research in one source, and need to chase it down in another. 

Look for identifying information about the research:

  • Author and/or researcher name
  • Institution (college/university/research center) the researchers work at
  • Journal title in which research has been published
  • Book title if the material is in a book

Use tools like ScholarSearch and Google Scholar to find the complete citations for that work. In case of books, start with the library catalog, but you may want also need to search Worldcat. Even if Drew doesn't have the item, we can usually get it for you through Interlibrary Loan.

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