As a college student, you have likely heard the term “scholarly source.” However, you might not be certain exactly what that means or what is considered to be a scholarly source. Yet, scholarly sources are the most common forms of evidence cited in academic research and writing. These sources are strikingly different than the articles you might typically read — the tone, language, audience, and format are specialized rather than generalized. It is critical for you to know the importance of scholarly sources as part of your research process.

In this blog, we will explore how scholarly sources are different, why they are so important in academic research and writing, and how you can use them to improve your own academic writing for your course assignments. 

What is a Scholarly Source?

The most common types of scholarly sources are those published in academic journals, but they can also include published books, conferences, dissertations, reports, and more. Scholarly sources are also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed sources. To learn more about what a scholarly source is, visit the UAGC Library’s Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed, and Other Credible Sources table.

What’s the Importance of Citing a Scholarly Source?

When you reference scholarly sources, you elevate the quality of your academic paper or research project. Additionally, as a key part of academic integrity, academic writing and research acknowledges and promotes the scholarship and findings of subject matter experts.

When you use evidence from scholarly sources in your own paper to support your argument and claims, you can be confident that the evidence and information has been acknowledged as credible, scholarly, and rigorously evaluated and tested. 

How to Know if a Source is Scholarly

In order to determine if a source is considered scholarly, you should ask the following questions:

1. Who is the author?

Are their credentials provided? Is it easy to see from these credentials that they are an authority or expert on the subject? Can you vet the author by looking them up elsewhere? A quick Google search can usually confirm if an author is associated with a university, research institution, publication, or other organization.

2. Who is the publisher?

Is it an academic publisher tied to a university or other research institution? What can you find out about the acceptance process of articles?

3. Who is the audience?

Does it appear to be written for an academic audience or an audience of experts in the field?

4. How is the publication structured?

Are there sections commonly found in academic articles such as an abstract, methods, results, and conclusion? Is there a list of references included?

5. What is the content?

Does it use formal language and tone? Does it include jargon or discipline-specific vocabulary? Does it include plenty of evidence from cited sources? Does the list of references include other scholarly sources?

Affirmative answers to these questions can establish that the source is in fact a scholarly source. Watch out for red flags such as inflammatory statements or language meant to cause an emotional response, self-published sources such as on someone’s personal website, and sources with little or no evidence cited, or possible non-credible evidence cited.

The UAGC Library guides Evaluating Sources, the CRAAP Test, and Four Moves & a Habit can ensure you know how to evaluate sources for use in your academic papers. 

What is a Peer-Reviewed Source?

Peer-reviewed sources are considered scholarly, but not all scholarly sources are peer-reviewed. 

Before a peer-reviewed journal article is published, that article must go through the peer review process. The peers who review the article are unbiased, qualified experts in the research field. These experts — or peers — read the article and decide whether or not the research is academically credible, valid, and of high quality. 

If you are required to have a peer-reviewed scholarly source for an assignment, you can determine whether a source is peer-reviewed in one of two ways:

1. Search for the journal title in the UAGC Library. The detailed record page provides a YES/NO answer for peer review. 

2. Google search the journal title, and read the About Us section to see if it mentions peer review. 
View the UAGC Library Hierarchy of Sources guide for more details. 

What is the Best Way to Find Scholarly Sources?

The most direct way to find a scholarly source is through the UAGC Library by checking the Scholarly/Peer Reviewed selector in Library OneSearch.

Note: using an online search engine such as Google cannot limit your results to only scholarly or peer-reviewed sources.

what is a scholarly source

We know searching in the library can be intimidating until you get used to it, so don’t be afraid to contact the library 24/7 for help.

You may have also heard of searching in Google Scholar for academic research. This is a free search engine from Google that specializes in finding scholarly literature on the web. There are pros and cons with using Google Scholar. 

Keep in mind that while Google Scholar is simple to use, its results are difficult to verify as credible and they can vary greatly in quality. Google Scholar makes a best guess at what a scholarly source is, but isn’t always right. You’ll have to critically evaluate these sources using the tips above on how to know if a source is scholarly. Also, the full text of an article is not always available within Google Scholar, unlike sources found in the UAGC Library.

How to Cite Scholarly Sources

The purpose of finding scholarly sources on a topic is to then use evidence from those sources in your own academic writing. Any argument or claims you make in your paper will need to include evidence that will support those claims. Using scholarly sources will give you the confidence that your evidence is highly credible. 

Choosing the most relevant and applicable evidence for your topic is important. See more about the types of evidence and how to choose relevant and credible evidence in the UAGC Writing Center’s Choosing the Best Sources and Evidence guide

The evidence from your chosen scholarly sources should be used as the supporting sentences of each body paragraph in your academic paper — after the topic sentence and before your own analysis and interpretation of the evidence. See more about how to use information from scholarly sources in your writing in the UAGC Writing Center’s Body Paragraphs guide

As you flex your academic research and writing muscles, you will become more and more comfortable identifying, evaluating, and using scholarly sources. When in doubt, ask a librarian!


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