Scholarly Sources: The A-Z Guide
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Scholarly Sources: The A-Z Guide

Deeptanshu D
Deeptanshu D

As a researcher, you must have come across the term "Scholarly Sources" several times. However, you might not be sure about "What is a scholarly Source" or "What is considered a scholarly source." Despite this, scholarly sources are the most widely used reference sources that are rampantly cited in academic research and writing. Scholarly sources are quite different from what you typically read or refer to regularly. They are specifically curated based on certain tone, language, audience, and format. In scholarly articles, you will find out that these factors are carefully specialized rather than generalized. Therefore, you need to know and understand the importance of scholarly sources before starting the research writing process.

In this blog, we will introduce you to the concept of a scholarly source, how to identify a scholarly source, the importance of a scholarly source, and more.

What is a Scholarly Source?


Often referred to by many names like academic, peer-reviewed, and refereed sources, a scholarly source, when compared to a popular source, have many distinct features that include:

  1. Scholarly sources are usually authored by academicians and researchers with advanced degrees that reflect their expertise in a subject domain.
  2. They are specifically written for a curated audience that includes academicians, researchers, and professional peers.
  3. Generally, a university press, a professional society, or a recognized scientific publisher only undertakes the publication of scholarly sources.
  4. Since scholarly sources are curated for a special set of audiences, they are authored in a language, style, and format that its audience would easily grab. However it becomes difficult for someone outside that set of audience to understand the true meaning itself.

While using the term scholarly sources, we majorly refer to the publications that include scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. However, commonly recognized textbooks, data sets, both electronic and print-based guidelines fall in the same category of scholarly sources. You can easily refer to and gather substantial information for your research from these credible sources.

The Importance of a Scholarly Source

As a researcher, you can build or elevate your knowledge by properly studying or responding to the ideas and discoveries of those who came before you. Scholarly sources are distinct and quite distinguished from popular sources because it demands authors to document and verify the sources of facts, ideas, and methods used to reach subsequent insights and conclusions. Besides, scholarly articles provide you with the opportunity to discover and discuss the merits of alternative explanations and standpoints they propose. Therefore, the whole process becomes a lot easier to evaluate the results based on the truth of strengths and weaknesses of the claims made in the source. Thus, it becomes quite helpful for those who hold expertise in  the subject (for example, your peer or professor) and those who have just started to learn about a subject (for example you).

Because of the rigorous peer-reviewing process, scholarly sources encompass a high level of credibility and authority. Now when you refer to a scholarly source, it contributes a high degree of credibility to your research work, too. Additionally, referring to or using scholarly sources is an expected attribute of any academic or scientific research work.

It is quite known to everybody that anyone can just put their opinions on anything in the form of an article on the web. There is a possibility that you may even agree with the conclusion of the articles posted on the web. However, these popular sources or articles don't include any pieces of evidence validating the claims made in their articles. Similarly, articles published in the most popular magazine contain useful information and claims made against the topic. Yet, they also don't provide anything that can either support or negate the claims.

In sharp contrast to all these popular sources, a scholarly source carries all the necessary elements to thoroughly evaluate and assess the validity of an author's claims.

Where to Find Scholarly Sources?

While working on a research project, you must have easy access to reliable, credible, and up-to-date information in your chosen research domain.  Scholarly sources are the best references that you can use best to put your arguments and claims against your research question.

Library databases, search engines, and discipline-specific databases are like the goldmines that you can easily leverage to upscale your research process.

General databases like Academic Search Complete, OmniFile Full text, and others include topics from all the disciplines and usually constitutes a mix of journals, newspapers, trade and popular magazines. While going through these databases, it's pretty common for researchers like you to get overwhelmed, and that is why you should always stick to the filter option of scholarly/peer-reviewed journals only.

Other scholarly-only databases that you can refer to are JSTOR, Project MUSE, Science Direct, etc.

Moreover, you can always check for scholarly sources on Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic. These are free search engines that specialize in bringing forth academic literature. But there are both pros and cons to it.

Besides the fact that these academic search engines are easy to use, the fetched results can sometimes be very difficult to ascertain as credible. Moreover, the quality variation occurs blatantly over these search engines. These search engines algorithms help in predicting the best guess at what a scholarly article is but their results sometimes display irrelevant contents. You are supposed to examine and critically evaluate these results using the following tips to determine if a source is scholarly. Speaking of credible scholarly sources, the SciSpace Discover offers access to more than 200 million credible scholarly papers.

Searching and sorting papers in Scispace discover
Searching and sorting papers in Scispace discover

The service allows you to narrow down search results using comprehensive search filters such as PDF availability, year of publication, document type, and institution.  You can stay focused on your topic with SciSpace Discover's personalized suggestion engine. On the article page, you are always provided with a link to related articles, so you stay on course without switching between tasks.

Narrow down your topic with filters
Narrow down your topic with filters

How to Determine if a Source is Scholarly?

Scholarly sources are developed and curated to serve the various interests to answer many questions a research paper espouses. Simply put the purpose of a scholarly source is to:

  • Provide credible information on a research idea.
  • Spread knowledge and awareness across a particular discipline.
  • Review or reassess the current forms of research work available.
  • Provide in-depth insights about a particular topic on which the research is based.

Once you understand and know the purpose of a scholarly source, it will be easier for you to discover and identify it. Below is a checklist of attributes you must look for while trying to identify a scholarly source:

1. Authorship

The presence of an author's credential is the first reflection of a scholarly source. Therefore, you must verify whether the credentials are appropriate or not. Take it as a pro-tip; always try to perform the credential search in google scholar. This will help you in ascertaining ifthat the author is a real expert or just for a namesake.

2. Publisher

You must check whether the journal is peer-reviewed or not. Always try to observe that the journal publisher must be a university publisher, professional organization, or a reputable commercial publishing brand house.

Additionally, you should check for the author's instructions for submitting manuscripts. The presence of such an option provides a degree of affirmation that the journal is credible enough. You can always choose to find out more about the publisher by going through their “About Us” page on the website and cross-referring through other search engines like Google Scholar.

Moreover, to discover if the publisher is authentic or not, try to search for the journal title in Ulrichs Web Global Serials Directory. A representative image of the black/white 'referee shirt' icon next to the title indicates that the journal is peer-reviewed.

3. Audience

While going through a scholarly source, you will find out that it has been written for a specific set of readers, including researchers, academicians, and subject experts. Generally, the scholarly article constitutes more technical terminology rather than formal. Additionally, the scholarly sources are often created for an audience that already bears the subject knowledge.

4. Review and Citation of Author’s Work

An author's work after getting published, another researcher often cites or use the previous research of a discipline to claim their findings. Additionally, scholarly books often get reviewed, and that too in an in-depth, thorough manner after publication.

As a researcher, you must search for book reviews if you use a book as a scholarly source. Whereas, if it's a research paper or journal article you are trying to verify as a credible scholarly source, you can use Google Scholar. In Google scholar or similar platforms, you should look for citation stats. This will give you insights into the entire citation history since its publication.

5. Structure of the Publication and Content

Reputed and credible journals always follow a structure in its publication. It includes abstracts, literature, methods, results, and conclusions. Therefore, you must check if the source you are verifying to include in your research contains these parameters or not. Additionally, you should ensure the presence of a reference list too.

The article's tone and content reflect its credibility. You must be able to distinguish between jargon statements and discipline-specific vocabulary. Pieces of evidence cited from previous research can help you recognize the credibility of any source.

What is the Anatomy of a Scholarly Article?

Whether you use a library database or search engines to find the scholarly sources, once the list of sources is visible on the screen, there are some key points through which you can determine if the source is scholarly. Simply put, as a researcher, it is your responsibility to check for parts of an article to ensure that the article is scholarly. Below we have described the common anatomy of a scholarly article through some key points:


1. Title

Not always, but usually and very often, the title of a scholarly article represents a short and precise summary of the article's contents. The title can also be considered as the research question. Generally, the title contains the technical terms related to the research mentioned.

2. Authors

One of the main reasons for the high credibility of scholarly articles is the high degree of transparency that it constitutes within itself. This transparency is always exhibited in providing the name of authors and their credentials (in case there are multiple authors).

It is quite common nowadays to provide the author's credential next to the name. Otherwise, you can always check for the footnote or endnote section to get the author's credentials.

The credentials are, indeed, shared for establishing the authority of the authors. Also, in case of any discrepancy, it serves as a  point of contact. These are primary reasons for providing the author's email address in recent academic articles.

3. Abstract

Generally written under 300-400 words, an abstract is like a summary of the research topic. As a researcher, you must investigate. As a writer, you must write your abstract, including a description of the problem, an overview of the experiment or argument, and a summary of the findings. An abstract is the section that allows readers to decide whether the article is a relevant research topic or not.

4. Introduction

The introduction section provides information about the research question or perhaps the problem that authors are trying to resolve. Here in the introduction part itself, authors provide the thesis of their argument or the goals & aim of the research. Besides, the relevance and the importance of the research is discussed in the introduction part.

The literature review, which exists as an overview of the related research & findings, may get started in this section itself or as a separate section. To know more about literature review, refer to this comprehensive guide.

5. Publication

You can find all the information about the publication  at the first-page footer part or sometimes at the header. It usually contains information regarding the journal title, issue number, volume, and page numbers.

If you are writing citation of an already published work, in that case you must verify the different references for scholarly sources against the publication information that they provide with the articles.

6. Charts, Graphs, and Equations

Statistical data related to research work are often presented in scholarly articles in the form of charts, graphs, and equations. However, unless there exists some direct relation, pictures or images are rarely used in scholarly sources.

7. Article Text or Body

The main discussions, including the methods & methodology describing and analyzing the research's scope are presented in sections and sub-sections. This is usually referred to as the "Body" of a scholarly article. The sections of the article may exist as sections or sometimes combined. The discussions will follow a high technical vocabulary and expects subject familiarity from the readers. Therefore, jargon, abbreviations, and technical terms are used without definition, provided it is unambiguous.

8. Conclusion

The section where authors summarize their work and present the outcomes or findings in results is called the conclusion part. The authors may discuss the facts or points that relate their research work to others or extend support and encouragement to take up the mantle they left off.

9. References

An article gets a tag of scholarly when it contains substantial research and information of the related works in the present disciple. Then, all of those related and reference sources are mentioned in this section in the form of a list. Generally, a scholarly article contains a long list of reference sources.

How to Cite a Scholarly Source?

The whole idea behind searching for a relevant scholarly source on a research topic is to use its findings and interpret its results in your research work. You can support your arguments for the outcomes and results through these scholarly sources, provided these sources have appropriate evidence backing the research topic.

You can gain high credibility for your research only if you have used credible scholarly sources.

Be careful in choosing the most relevant and applicable evidence for your research topic. It would be best if you tried using the pieces of evidence from the chosen scholarly source as a bracing at the end of each body paragraph of your research paper. Additionally, you must incorporate the same evidence in the topic statement and prior to your own analysis and interpretation of the reference sources.

SciSpace Discover makes it easy to cite research papers across multiple formats. The 'cite' button on an article page will automatically show you preloaded citation text, so you can copy and paste it into your document.

Citation management in Scispace discover
Citation management in Scispace discover

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