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Evaluation of Sources - A How to Guide: Journals

image of scholarly journalsWhat is a scholarly journal?

Scholarly journals are published periodically, ranging in frequency from monthly to quarterly or even only twice yearly. The key differences between magazines and journals are that journals are written for and by experts in their chosen field and that they focus on a particular research interest, such as experimental psychology or aerodynamics. Scholarly journals are published in every academic discipline and are used as a means for scholars and researchers to share their research and discoveries with others who are also experts in their discipline. In the course of publishing their own research, academics will review the work of other experts and will also raise challenging questions about areas of their disciplines that can be pursued in future research. In short, scholarly journals provide a sounding board for those involved in deeply exploring any academic discipline.

By nature, scholarly journals are written in a style different from popular magazines. Since they are addressed to a specialized audience, articles published in scholarly journals are infused with the language of the discipline on which they focus. Articles written for experts in psychology, for example, will utilize the specialized vocabulary used by psychologists in their study of human behavior. This makes them largely inaccessible to the general public, but these articles are not written for the general public in the first place. They are written for other experts in the field. Important studies published in scholarly journals will be reported in the popular press in magazines such as Time and Newsweek, but the reports of the studies in the popular press greatly simplify the findings so that the general ideas are easily accessible to any reader. Not so, the scholarly journals. Here the results of the studies are published in great detail using the specialized language available to experts in the field. Data collected and analyzed as part of the study will also be included in the published results.

What is Peer Review?

Peer review reflects an evaluative approach to selecting materials for inclusion in journals and books based on professional review. The process might also be referred to as refereeing. Peers, in this case, are professionals and experts who have an intimate familiarity with the subject matter being explored in the article or chapter. These are the author's "peers," those who also are heavily engaged within the profession or academic discipline for which the author is writing.

General characteristics of a scholarly journal article

  • discuss research in detail with charts and graphs of data
  •  include a substantial bibliography
  •  have an abstract
  •  are written for and by scholars (usually by college professors)
  •  can be "peer reviewed" (approved by experts in the field)
  •  usually longer – more than 3 pages
  •  very few, if any, ads

Watch this brief tutorial about scholarly articles:

Demonstration: Evaluating a journal article


Steps to evaluating a journal article:

Is the journal peer-reviewed?

Google the publisher of the journal and/or the title of the journal. This information will help you determine the scope and intended audience of the journal.

What is the expertise of the author(s)?

Look for small hypertext icons such as letters or numbers after the authors' names. Then locate the icons with descriptions of where the authors work. This will tell you determine the authors' credibility and reliability.

authors names with hypertext

Author details with hypertext

When was the article submitted, accepted, and published?

Look for this information on the first page or towards to end of the article. This will help you determine relevancy and currency of the article.

Example of date received, accepted, published

Does the author(s) have a conflict of interest or bias?

Look towards the end of the article for sections entitled Acknowledgements, Author Contributions, Funding, Declarations, or Competing Interests. These statements will help you determine bias, point of view, and purpose.