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Evaluation of Sources - A How to Guide: Journals

What 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.

Scholarly journal explained

How to evaluate a scholarly journal

  • Is it peer-reviewed? The peer-review process used by many scholarly journals is designed to guarantee a certain amount of accuracy and quality in the publication of scholarly information.


  • Medical and Health: It is especially important that medical and health information be up to date. You could use an older source for history and background information, but make sure you check more recent sources for new developments. Generally, older than 5 years is considered out of date for clinical use.


  • Look closely at the language used in the information source. Examine the types of adjectives and verbs used; is there evidence of superlatives/absolutes (“always” and “never”), emotional/sweeping generalizations, and exaggeration? Example: "This is obviously the most important idea ever conceived!" or "All teenagers are distracted drivers since they are always texting."

General characteristics

  • 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

How to determine if an article is scholarly

Scholarly journal articles often have an abstract, a descriptive summary of the article contents, before the main text of the article.

Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.

Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies. These bibliographies are generally lengthy and cite other scholarly writings.

Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field. The affiliations of the authors are listed, usually at the bottom of the first page or at the end of the article--universities, research institutions, think tanks, and the like.

The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some technical background on the part of the reader.

The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.

Many scholarly journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization.

Examples of scholarly journals

 image of scholarly journals           

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.