What is a Peer-Reviewed or Scholarly Article?

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You’re starting to work on an assignment, and the directions say that you need “at least one scholarly article” to support your argument. Or it might instead say “at least one peer-reviewed article.” What exactly does this mean? What is a scholarly or peer-reviewed article?

Popular Articles

Let’s start with something with which you’re already familiar: magazine articles. You probably know of lots of popular magazines like Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and Vogue to name a few. But have you ever thought about what the articles in these magazines have in common?

  • Articles discuss topics of general interest and are intended to inform as well as entertain.
  • They are usually written by journalists or professional writers. These journalists usually don’t have a PhD or other advanced degree in the area that they’re writing about. You wouldn’t need a graduate degree to write about the Yankees’ latest winning streak anyway, right?
  • Before they’re published, articles are reviewed by the editorial staff of the magazine, who also probably don’t have advanced degrees in the field. They mainly review articles for style and format.
  • The articles are intended to be read by the general public – anyone can pick up one of these magazines at the supermarket or bookstore.
  • Since they’re intended for anyone to read, the language they use is easily understandable and contains commonly used vocabulary.
  • Most of these articles have glossy photographs or other illustrations, and the magazines where they’re published usually have lots of advertisements.
  • Articles generally don’t cite sources or include a bibliography at the end.

Scholarly Articles

Scholarly journals are different from popular magazines. Some examples of titles of scholarly journals include the Journal of African Cultural Studies or the Journal of Child Psychotherapy. You wouldn’t see these in the checkout line. Now that you’re familiar with some of the characteristics of popular articles, we can compare them to scholarly articles:

  • Scholarly articles present the authors’ original research, like a study that they conducted. The authors publish the article to share their findings with other scholars and researchers.
  • These articles are written by scholars in that field, and their credentials or academic degrees are usually provided (PhDs, affiliated universities, etc.).
  • Most (but not all) scholarly articles are peer-reviewed. Before they are published, articles are reviewed by peers who are also experts in the field. These other experts review the content. This review process, with many sets of expert eyes reading the article before it’s published, helps to ensure the credibility of the information presented.
  • Scholarly articles are intended for an audience of other scholars or experts in the field. This group includes faculty, researchers, and students.
  • Articles often include lots of technical language or terminology that is specific to the field, so the writer assumes that the reader has some background knowledge about the subject.
  • Rather than photographs, you’ll often see lots of charts and graphs that present data the authors have collected during their research.
  • Articles always include a reference list or bibliography of sources the author consulted, and all quotations and facts within the article are cited.

Both popular and scholarly articles can be important sources of information in your research. Now when your instructors ask you to use scholarly sources, you know what they’re talking about.


Written by: Kristin White.
Kristin White is a librarian at Ashford University. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned her master’s degree in library science. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA. Her interests include reading (mostly literary and historical fiction), classical music (she plays clarinet in several community orchestras), and keeping her two cats from tearing through the window screens to chase birds. She became a librarian because she believes it’s important to be able to find and use information effectively, whether it’s for a research paper in a course or for making decisions in our everyday lives. She loves helping people understand and navigate the vast world of information that we live in today.

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