A scholarly source is an article or other piece of academic work that’s been written by an expert (or experts) in a particular field. They are aimed at a reader who already has an interest in the subject, with the intention of keeping this audience up-to-date with the most recent research or news on the topic.

Scholarly sources are often peer-reviewed or refereed by other experts in the same field. This adds further weight to the material as it’s been pre-reviewed for accuracy and quality before publication. They’re also likely to be very well researched with a works cited page referencing all the sources used. All of the above should instill confidence in the reader that the work is a trustworthy article and scholarly.

Colleges love scholarly sources as they lend credibility to a student’s work. Using quality sources is a sure-fire way to improve the quality of your own paper or essay, so try to use them for your research where you can. Don’t forget to include your own in-text citations to ensure that your reader can see what great scholarly sources you’ve used. Your lecturer will be able to advise whether you should use MLA or APA format citations, or another citation style such as Harvard referencing.

How can I tell if a source is scholarly?

There are lots of little clues you can look for when trying to identify whether a source is scholarly. Ask yourself the following:

Who is the article written by and what are their credentials?

In a scholarly source, the author should have credentials that are relevant to the subject of the article. For example, an article recently published in American Psychologist, “Gender Differences in Reading and Writing Achievement,” was written by David Reilly, David L. Neumann and Glenda Andrews. The article lists their credentials as academics at the School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University, Australia. It even includes their photographs and contact details.

Who is the article published by and how often?

Scholarly sources are often published by an academic institution or by a professional organization that’s relevant to the subject, at regular intervals. For example, the Yale Law Review is published eight times a year by Yale University, and includes articles, essays, features and academic book reviews by professional legal scholars (with notes and comments added by students of Yale Law School).

Who is the article written for?

Scholarly sources are not written with the general public or layman in mind. The intended audience will already have an interest in the subject, and the author of the article will have assumed that the reader already has a certain level of knowledge and understanding. This can often been seen in the language used and other points of reference throughout the article.

Is it well cited?

Academic authors realize the importance of carefully citing quality sources, which means that scholarly sources should be well referenced.

Where did you find the article?

There are numerous places where you can find scholarly sources. Academic journals are essential compilations of scholarly articles relevant to a particular field, released regularly to offer the latest research, thoughts, and findings on a subject. If you found the article in your college library database it’s likely that it’s already been verified as scholarly (ask your librarian if unsure).

How long is the article?

Scholarly sources are typically very well researched and delve quite deeply into the subject matter. This means that they tend to be quite long and detailed, often with additional assets such as graphs, charts, tables or bibliographies. If the article that you’re looking at is more of a short overview of a subject then it’s unlikely to be scholarly.

Is the article well evidenced and unbiased?

Scholarly sources base their findings on fact over opinion, with objective conclusions that are well supported by research and evidence. If the article you’re looking at attempts to persuade you to a particular way of thinking, without backing up its conclusions, then it’s unlikely to be scholarly.

Now that you know what a scholarly source is, and how and where to find them, there’s no excuse for not including them in your own research. Just don’t forget to give these hard-working academics credit where it’s due by fully citing those scholarly sources that are sure to add value to your own academic papers and essays.