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BIO 298: Biology Senior Seminar

What are scholarly sources?

Most of the time when people refer to scholarly sources, they're referring to a certain type of articles.

Scholarly articles--which are also called peer-reviewed, refereed, or academic articles--are considered the most reliable information sources. 

Scholarly articles are:

  • Written by and for scholars, experts, or specialists. Authors should list their credentials.
  • Published by an academic press, university, scholarly publisher, or professional organization.
  • Written in factual, technical, and scholarly language.
  • Intended to report on research and scholarship.
  • Supported by bibliographies, works cited pages, and reference lists.
  • Subject to a rigorous process called peer review, in which scholars critique, approve, or reject studies for publication.

Primary Articles: In the sciences, research articles are also called "Primary Articles".


  • Not all peer reviewed articles are scholarly, not all scholarly articles are peer reviewed
  • Peer reviewed review articles are not scientific research articles.

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Criteria Scholarly (Primary) Journal Popular (secondary) Magazine
Sample Cover cover of a scholarly journal cover of a popular magazine
Audience Academics and professionals General Public
Authors Experts or specialists in the field.  Unpaid Paid authors
Review process Peer review process. Unpaid. Professional editors. Paid
Content Research published by the researchers.  Written for experts in the field: not easy to read. Research summarized in a newspaper or magazine.  Easy to read.
References Almost always Rarely

Source: NCSU Libraries

Open Access Articles

Open Access LogoOpen access (OA) refers to freely available, digital, online information. Open access scholarly literature is free to access, which makes it available to anyone with an internet connection.  

While OA is a newer form of scholarly publishing, many but not all OA journals have a peer-review process.


Note: Some Open Access articles are "Preprints", meaning that the article has not gone through the peer review process

Dissecting a Scholarly Article

Not all articles that are marked as "peer reviewed" in the library databases are scholarly, so you will need to be able to identify one:

  • Title: what the article is about
  • Authors and affiliations: the writer of the article and the professional affiliations. The credentials may appear below the name or in a footnote.
  • Abstract: a summary of the article
  • Introduction:  An overview of the topic, why the study was done, and the authors hypothesis
  • Methods: How the research was done, in enough detail that the research could be repeated.
  • Results: the research findings.  Look for tables, charts and graphs.
  • Discussion or Conclusion: the author's interpretation of the results, and what they thought was significant.
  • References / Cited Works:  a list of the works cited in the article

Bonus: Evaluating Information

Avoiding Crap on the web:  the C.R.A.P. test:

  • Currency: When was it written?  Is the information up to date?
  • Reliability: Where did the author(s) get their information?
  • Authority: Who is the author? What are their credentials?
  • Purpose: Is the author trying to sell you something?   Is there a bias?