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How to assess the value of a scholarly article?

Collegial review / Expert review / Peer review

When your teachers talk about scholarly literature, they often mean that your sources should be of the kind that has gone through the process of reviewing by independent subject matter experts. This is known as peer review, and is specifically essential to scholarly articles. In many databases you can choose to filter your search to include only articles from journals which use peer review. Here is an example from Primo of what it might look like:

Image showing the filter peer reviewed with checked box.


If the search filter for peer review is lacking in the database, you can use the search service ULRICHSWEB (link at the bottom of this page) to check if a journal uses peer review. Enter the journal name in the search box and then look it up in the results list, check for the symbol  signifying "Refereed", which is equivalent to peer review, as in the example below:

Image of results list in ULRICHSWEB with information about the scholarly journal Science


Scholarly peer-reviewed journal issues may also contain other types of articles (debate, reviews and so on). These types of article are not scholarly reviewed. To be quite certain that an article is scholarly you can check a number of its features like the following examples: its structure, the number of pages, a reasonably long reference list.


Structuring the article in a scholarly manner

To determine if an article is scholarly, one can also look at how it is structured. Usually the arrangement of the structure's parts follows a scheme called IMRAD (after the initial letters of the headings listed below). The structure is very similar to the one of a student essay:

  • Introduction: A presentation of the study's objectives and also a presentation of previous research on the topic.
  • Method: Description of how the study was conducted.
  • Results: Review of what the researchers came up with for results.
  • AND
  • Discussion: Discussion on how the study's results should be interpreted.

This structure is more or less standard for scholarly articles and authors often use these headings to name the parts of the article. Note, however, that this structure only applies if the study is empirical, that is, the researchers collected their own study material through, for example, interviews, surveys, experiments or the like. More theoretical articles often have a freer layout.

Databases providing information about scholarly journals