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Understanding Scholarly Articles

These are some definitions and characteristics of scholarly articles.

  • Scholarly journal articles are written by and for people in the same and or related academic or professional fields.
  • They use terminology specific to the field.
  • They aim to contribute to the scholarly conversation by advancing knowledge.
  • They are usually peer-reviewed or undergo an editorial review by specialists in the discipline or profession. 
  • They carefully document (cite) their sources, and these cited references may point to earlier sources relevant to your topic.
  • Scholarly journal articles also may include links to files with useful supplementary information.
  • In addition to scholarly, they may also be called academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed articles

Primary / First / "I" /eyewitness

Scholarly journals include articles that are reports and discussions of the results of original research, are written by those who carried out the studies, and are based on the results of their experiments or observations.

These articles are primary research articles.

Typical Format of a Primary Research Article

  • Abstract: summary of what the study is about, how the research was conducted, what the findings are.
  • Introduction and Literature Review: background of problem, reasons for/objectives of the study, prior research & literature on the topic.
  • Methods & Results: how the study was conducted, what was found (samples, measurement, procedures)
  • Discussion & Conclusion: Interpretation of the results, summary of important findings & their meaning to the field; sometimes what the limitations of the study are and need for future research.
  • References
  • [May include] Appendices or Supplemental Information files

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article (interactive graphic). NCSU Libraries

How to Read a Scientific Paper (pdf slides) Purdue University Libraries

1. Is the journal academic/scholarly? Does it include peer-reviewed articles?

A.  Search for your journal title in  Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory to see if it is scholarly/academic and refereed (peer-reviewed).

B. Use the Scholarly/Academic Journals limit within many databases
     Most article databases allow you to limit your results to only scholarly/academic journals.
     ⇒ Use other methods to verify if some results seem wrong: this method does not always work well.

C. Check the journal's website
    Search for the journals website. It will describe the purpose of the journal.
    Look in the  About This Journal section, or in the Instructions to Authors to see if the .journal is peer-reviewed,

2.  Is it a primary research article?
     (i.e., a report of original research, written by the researcher(s))

Even if you have determined that the journal in which an article was published is scholarly, these journals usually also contain other types of articles such as editorials, commentary, review articles, book reviews, and news.  

A.  Clues you might find in the abstract include words such as:
      study, results, methods/methodology, data, experimental, field trial
B.  Look at the format of the article. Does it follow the typical format? (see previous tab)

sample primary research article

sample literature review


From NCSU: