How to Find Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

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 before 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)

How to Identify a Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Article

Scholarly, peer-reviewed articles will have most of the characteristics listed below. Ask yourself these questions and look at the article to check if the way it looks and is written indicates it is a reliable, accurate source:


1. Is it written by a scholar?

Look for clues that indicate the author(s) is a scholar/researcher:

      •  Do the author(s) have advanced degrees and/or credentials, like Ph.D. or M.D.?

      •  Does the author(s) have an affiliation or association? For example, do they work at a university, hospital, or similar knowledge-based organization?


2. What is it about? Who's the intended audience?

Check if the purpose of the article is to provide original research that further our understanding about a topic:

     •  Is the scope and topic narrowly defined with a theoretical and/or technical focus (scholarly), centered on professional practice (trade), or broad and general (popular)?

     •  Is the content research-based and analytical with the aim of creating new knowledge? Or is the intention to merely persuade, entertain, inform, or report?


3. How is it structured?

Look at the length, formatting, and headings/sections inside the article:

      •  Does it have a clear structure that indicates a scientific research study? For example, an abstract followed by headings/sections indicating the study's purpose, design, results and discussion of findings?

      •  Is it lengthy (more than 5 pages)?

      •  In general, the less structured it is the more it is likely NOT a scholarly source.


4. How is it written?

Review the language, tone, and point of view of the article:

      •  Is the language formal and technical (indicating a scholarly, peer-reviewed source), professional jargon (indicating a trade source), or plain and simple (indicating popular source)?

      •  Would the general public be able to understand the article, or does it require a higher level of education and knowledge?

      •  A scholarly, peer-reviewed article will have an objective point of view and logical, argumentative tone with many citations to published research that support its claims.


5. What's the publication type?

Look for clues that tell you the article is published inside of an academic/scholarly journal:

      •  Go to the website or description and read the "About" or "Aims and Scope" sections. Is the primary purpose to publish new knowledge and original research (scholarly), provide news and information relevant to professional practice (trade), or entertain, persuade, and inform (popular)?

      •  Is the visual appearance of the website plain, with minimal advertising and colour? Or is it colourful and flashy with a lot of graphics and advertisements?

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 citations and references

     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

The following terms and characteristics indicate an article is news or opinion-based information or published in a trade or professional journal. 

      •  Short title and abstract with simple, plain language 

      •  Provides advice, information and/or news of interest to a professional or practitioner of the discipline, field or industry

      •  Short or no reference list, footnotes and/or endnotes

      •  ​Advertising targeted at individuals or companies associated with the profession. For example: job boards, industry supplies/equipment

      •  Professional, educational, and opinion-based terms, such as:

        •  continuing education (CE)

        •  professional development (PD)

        •  primer

        •  editorial

        •  position paper

        •  commentary, reply or response

        •  interview

        •  book review

        •  clinical practice

        •  professional practice

        •  viewpoint or opinion

        •  news or update

        •  announcement

        •  education

        •  conference paper