Skip to Main Content
Is It Scholarly? Identifying Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Sources

Is It Scholarly? Identifying Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Sources

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly sources

Searching for Scholarly/Academic sources in our databases or perhaps on the Web can help, but doesn't guarantee all of your sources will truly be scholarly.  Below are some ways to evaluate scholarly/academic vs. other source types—you can also refer to the Differences at a Glance page and get some additional tips on the Popular Sources or Trade/Professional Sources pages.  Be sure to look at the criteria in each category when making your determination, rather than basing your decision on only one or two categories.


  • Don't let the word "Journal" influence your decision too strongly. Although the word Journal is often an indicator of a scholarly publication, it doesn't guarantee it. Think in particular of titles such as  Ladies Home Journal, a popular magazine that was in publication for 130 years. On the other hand, the Journal of Women's Health is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. The Journal of Astrology is a popular magazine, while the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics is scholarly.
  • Does the title indicate the source is geared toward a very specific and limited audience? These titles are often trade publications and contain information that will assist practitioners in a specific field learn more about their work. For example, The Social Studies Professional and Accounting Today are both geared toward very specific audiences, as their titles indicate, and are trade or professional publications.


  • Scholarly publications often have a quarterly publication frequency, so those items that indicate an issue as Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall will most likely be scholarly..
  • Non-scholarly sources often include a month, date and year. For example: March 4, 2010 or 11/25/2011. A date that appears in this manner generally indicates a source that is published on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which is rarely characteristic of scholarly.


  • Scholarly articles are longer, often meaning multiple mouse scrolls to get to the end if you're reading it online, or often 10 pages or more if printed.  Length typically indicates in-depth and thorough research and presentation of the subject matter.
  • Professional/trade publication articles vary in length. Articles in trade publications have varying lengths, some will be longer research articles, but others may be very short.
  • Popular magazine articles are usually the shortest. Articles in popular sources online tend to be shorter; a print version would probably be 1-2 pages.


  • If the tone and/or content seems to be addressing other scholars and/or students in the field of study and uses  that are subject-specific (such as a doctor who publishes an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association about "Hereditary hemochromatosis"), it is most likely a scholarly source.
  • If the tone and/or content seems to be addressing other people in a profession and possibly uses terms that are understood by those in that profession (such as an advertising executive who publishes an article in Adweek), it is most likely a trade or professional source.
  • If the tone and/or content seems to be addressing the general public and uses terms that most anyone can understand, (such as in Newsweek) it is most likely a popular source

Citations & References

  • Scholarly sources include footnotes/endnotes and a bibliography or references.
  • Trade/Professional sources may include citations or a bibliography; if so they are often not as long or thorough.
  • Popular sources typically don't have many or any citations or references and may not provide supporting evidence.


  • Are there multiple authors? Articles written by scholars often include a group of authors.
  • Are author credentials included? (i.e. PhD or MD) Consistent use of credentials indicates the likelihood it is a scholarly source since it is presumably an expert in the field.
  • Are author names listed? If there is no author name it is likely a popular source (Many Popular sources do publish author's names however).

Supplementary Items

  • Are charts, tables or graphs included? The presence of these items will often indicate a scholarly source, particularly if there are many of them.  This can demonstrate that serious research was done and results are carefully tabulated and presented.
  • Are photographs included? Photographs are most frequently included in popular and trade sources.

Even after reviewing this list, you should continue to critically evaluate your sources. Be aware that scholarly publications can also include items beyond scholarly, peer-reviewed articles such as book reviews and editorials.


Why use scholarly sources?

The authority and credibility evident in scholarly sources will contribute a great deal to the overall quality of your papers. Use of scholarly sources is an expected attribute of college-level course work.

What does it mean when it says a scholarly source is peer-reviewed?

When a source has been peer-reviewed it has undergone the review and scrutiny of a review board of colleagues in the author's field. They evaluate this source as part of the body of research for a particular discipline and make recommendations regarding its publication in a journal, revisions prior to publication, or, in some cases, reject its publication.