How to Find Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Glossary of Terms & Definitions

Scholar: A highly educated specialist who conducts research in a particular branch of study

Periodical: A type of publication produced as an open-ended series at regular intervals, or “periods,” such as daily, monthly, quarterly or annually

Scholarly/Academic Journal: A type of periodical that includes original research articles written by researchers and experts in a particular academic discipline, providing a forum for the production and critique of knowledge

Research Article: A formally written article that describes new knowledge or ideas based on original research, analysis and/or interpretation

Peer Review: The process by which scholars critically evaluate each other's research article prior to publication in an academic journal.

Editor: An individual who reviews, corrects, and determines the final content of a publication<

Scholarly Communication:"The system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs" (ACRL)



Finding Academic/Scholarly Journal Articles in the Library

The RGO Library & Learning Commons (LLC) provides access to thousands of scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles through the library website and collection of subscription databases

The login for online library resources is set to:

  • Username: Bow Valley College account email address (e.g.,
  • Password: Bow Valley College account password

Search the library catalogue for articles, ebooks, videos, and more:

Or access the LLC's databases collection through:

This interactive tutorial guides you through the process of using the library catalogue to find and place holds on print books, download online articles and ebooks, and improve search results:

Watch this short tutorial to learn more about library databases:

The library's databases are structured so you can access all the items stored inside. Like a filing cabinet, fields are used to describe and organize library resources into files called records.

When a search term is entered, the computer finds records that contain the search term in one or more of the fields.

All databases share this structure but vary in appearance, the types and formats of the content stored inside, and the terminology used to organize that content.

  1. General, multi-subject databases cover a broad range of subjects and index thousands of resources in multiple formatsIn general, there are two types of databases:
  2. Subject-specific or format-specific databases cover a particular subject or discipline and/or index a particular type of publication, such as streaming videos, e-books, or newspapers

Library databases contain information in multiple formats - images, streaming videos, book chapters, and so on.

One of the most common formats in databases are periodicals. 
Periodical refers to publications produced as an open-ended series at regular intervals, or “periods,” such as daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.
Periodicals may be issued in print and/or electronic formats with a title indicating content that is focused on a particular subject area, audience, and/or geographic location.
There are 4 major types of periodicals: popular, news-based, trade/professional, and academic.

Type Examples Description  



National Geographic;


Sports Illustrated

  • Intended to entertain or persuade, usually with an agenda to sell products or services.
  • Brief articles with short, catchy titles that have no obvious structure and do not contain original research, but sometimes contain summaries and popular representations of research, making it accessible to a non-specialized audience.
  • Many photographs, illustrations, and colourful graphic layouts used for aesthetic purposes to draw in and influence readers.
  • Attractive glossy format with lots of colour.
  • Simple language in order to meet a very basic level of education.
  • Extensive advertising designed to appeal to the general public or a specific demographic.
  • Published on a weekly or monthly basis.

Calgary Herald;

The Global and Mail;



  • Contains information on local, regional, national, or international events; editorialsand opinion columns; and entertainment reviews.
  • Historical newspapers can provide unique eyewitness accounts of events.
  • Useful for acquiring time-sensitive information as content is extremely current.
  • Provides mainly objective information, but does not contain scholarly analysis.
  • Written for a general audience with plain, simple language.
  • Original source of the information is often unclear, as articles have no in-text citations or reference lists.
  • Published daily, weekly, or monthly.
Trade or Professional

Advertising Age;

Harvard Business Review;

Nutrition Health Review

  • Provides news and information to professionals in a particular industry.
  • Articles do not contain original research, but focus on applying research to practical and real-life situations (i.e. discussing how teachers can apply the latest research on learning theories to their teaching).
  • Assumes the reader is an educated and experienced professional, so specialized vocabulary and technical jargon is often used.
  • Funded through both subscriptions and advertising, with extensive advertising aimed at people in the field or industry.
  • Photographs and illustrations used to support content of the article and also for aesthetic purposes to draw in readers.
  • Published on an annual, biannual, or quarterly basis.
Academic (Scholarly & Peer-Reviewed)

Nursing Philosophy;

Journal of Business Communication

  • Most articles are evaluated before publication through the peer review process.
  • Articles are written by scholars or researchers in the field, discipline, or specialty and contain advanced, technical language appropriate to the discipline.
  • Illustrations, graphs, charts and photographs are used only to support the content of articles.
  • Articles are lengthy and have substantial in-text citations with endnotes, footnotes and/or bibliographies.
  • Plain appearance with little use of colour and minimal advertising.
  • Published on an annual, biannual, or quarterly basis.
  • Contains one or more of these terms in the title - Journal, Studies, Applied, Analysis or Quarterly.



Periodicals typically contain several types of articles with varying purposes and characteristics

This means that academic journals do NOT publish ONLY scholarly, peer-reviewed articles. Other types of articles, such as editorials, commentaries, opinion pieces and interviews, are also published in academic journals.

Click below to learn about the characteristics of these common types of articles found in the library's databases:

Scientific, Peer-Reviewed Research Articles in Academic Journals

Theoretical Peer-Reviewed Research Articles in Academic Journals

Review Article (such as a Literature Review, Systematic Review, or Meta-Analysis) in Academic or Professional/Trade Journal

Case Study or Case Report in Academic or Professional/Trade Journals

Editorial, Commentary or Reply in Academic, Trade/Professional, News-Based or Popular Periodicals

Opinion Pieces in Academic, Trade/Professional, News-Based or Popular Periodicals

Interviews in Academic, Trade/Professional, News-Based or Popular Periodicals

News-Based Articles in Academic, Trade/Professional, News-Based or Popular Periodicals

What is Peer Review?

Peer review is a publication process based on peer evaluation that ensures contributions made to the scholarly community are based on accurate, reliable, and original research findings and analysis:

To determine if a journal article is peer-reviewed, open the article and look for the key characteristics described below.

For more help, use the How to Find Peer-Reviewed Articles guide.


University of California at Berkeley (n.d.). Scrutinizing science: Peer review [digital image]. Understanding Science. Retrieved from

5 Key Characteristics:
  1. Author(s) with credentials (e.g. PhD)and/or affiliations(e.g. university professor)
  2. A specific focus on contributing new, original research in a narrow area of the subject (often indicated through a long title)
  3. Technical and formal language with complex ideas and arguments, an objective tone, and an analytical perspective
  4. Lengthy (at least 5 pages of text) with many references, footnotes and/or endnotes
  5. Plain appearance with very minimal use of colour, graphics and/or images
Additional Clues (typical but not necessary):
  • A received date and accepted date, which indicate a peer review process prior to publication
  • An abstract on the front page, which summarizes the content of the article
  • Structured into sections indicating a research study, with headings such as Introduction, Purpose or Objective; Research Methods or Design; Analysis, Themes or Theoretical Approach; Results or Findings; Discussion or Conclusion

How to Search Library Databases

Follow these tips to improve the quality of hits in the library's databases:

  1. Use concrete and neutral words.
  2. Never type more the one or two words in a search box. Go to the Advanced Search page to separate keywords into multiple boxes.
  3. If you are not finding what you need, try to change or add keywords.
  4. Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) and truncation (*) to expand and narrow results. 
  5. Use filters/limiters on the left-hand or right-hand side of the screen to refine results.
  6. Choose a field from the drop-down menu next to the search box to narrow results. 
  7. Ask for help!

A “keyword” is simply a concrete word or phrase that describes the main concepts in a research question or topic. If you have used an Internet search engine, you are probably familiar with keyword searching.

A keyword search:

  • Finds the word wherever it appears in the database
  • Is the most flexible and broadest type of search that is best for initial exploration of a research topic or question
  • May yield too many results that are not relevant to the research topic or question
  • Is useful for when the keyword is form of jargon or a term that is new or otherwise distinctive, such as personal names or brands

NEVER type more than one or two words into a search box. Use Advanced Search for more search boxes to add keywords.

To expand search results, drop the ending of keywords and place an asterisk (*) next to the root of term to find all variations such as the plural and adjectival forms:

Generating Search Terms Tutorial

This video tutorial will show you how to find and generate effective keywords for internet or database searching:

Boolean operators allow you to connect search terms together to get more focused results. The most common are AND, OR and NOT:

Operator What does it do? Examples
  • Narrows search results.
  • Retrieves results that contain all the terms and excludes those that contain just one of the terms.

youth AND drugs

child AND development AND play

  • Expands search results.
  • Retrieves results that contain either or all search terms; OR is usually used to search for synonyms or related words.

native OR aboriginal

job OR career OR profession

  • Narrow search results by excluding one or more words.
  • Retrieves the records that contain the first term but eliminates any records that contain the term which is entered after NOT. It should be used with caution as it may eliminate relevant records.

depression NOT economic

crime AND London NOT Ontario

When you use library databases, you will often get too many results.

In most databases, the left-hand or right-hand column of the search results page has many filters/limiters to narrow and improve the accuracy and relevancy of results.

The categories of filters and limiters include:

  • Format of resource, such as print book, academic journal, or eBook
  • Subject headings, which describe the content of the item
  • Language of the publication
  • Geographic location such as country, province, state or city
  • Library database where the item is located, such as Academic Search Complete or Nursing Reference Center
Here are two examples of library database filters:

Example 1:

Example 2:

A field is used to “file” a library resource in the database. Fields appear on the database record and vary according to the format of the library resource.

This is an example of a record for an academic journal article. There are fields for the article title, name of the journal (source), author(s), database, and so on. These fields are used to describe and organize the library resource:


To narrow search results by field, choose from the drop-down menu next to the search box:
Library advanced search fields
The library has many different databases and most have this option. This is an example of the field drop-down menu in another database:
Database advanced search select a field drop down menu

A field search:

  • Is best for known items, meaning you have some knowledge of specific characteristics such as author, title of article, and so on
  • Must have the exact spelling and grammatical structure. For example, most databases format the author field with by last name first followed by the initial of the first name, so a search for “Anne Smith” would not be successful but search for “Smith, A” would be successful
  • May narrow results too much, missing other relevant resources

In library databases, subject headings are a type of standardized “tag” used to index and organize resources on the same topic, regardless of the words used in the actual text.

Subject headings are useful because they group under one umbrella term all the synonyms, singular or plural forms, and spelling variants of a given term so you do not have to search for every variation to find all relevant resources.

Also referred to as subject terms or descriptors, subject headings vary depending on the database. A list of subject headings is typically provided within the thesaurus or index, which can be used to begin a subject search.

For example, the Business Source Complete database has a link to its Thesaurus that provides the option to search or browse by keyword:

After searching by keyword, such as accounting, a list of subject headings pertaining to that subject is retrieved:

Another method of subject searching is by opening the database record.

Often, the subject headings are hyperlinked. Clicking on one will retrieve all resources that have been indexed under that subject heading:

A subject search:

  • Is helpful for when you are seeking information on a general or broad topic
  • Can locate sources on a topic that is not explicitly expressed in any of the other fields in a catalogue or database record
  • Is useful for finding information about a specific person or place, such as an author (books about Margaret Atwood) or a region (Asia)
  • Can assist you in narrowing your research topic, as general subjects are broken down into subtopics; for example “Business – ethics”