Articles in scholarly journals are valued for several reasons. First, they are usually trustworthy because their publication process includes a peer review that helps ensure their accuracy and contribution to their disciplines. In addition, they often contain the first reports of new research, which makes their sections on methodology, data, analysis, and interpretation of primary sources. Sometimes they instead consist of literature reviews, summaries of multiple research studies done in the past on particular subjects of current interest. That makes those articles very helpful secondary sources.
The most-respected scholarly journals are peer-reviewed, which means that experts in their field other than the author and editor check out each article before it can be published. It’s their responsibility to help guarantee that new material is presented in the context of what is already known, that the methods the researcher used are the right ones, and that the article contributes to the field.
For those reasons, peer-reviewed articles are more likely to be credible. Peer-reviewed journal articles are the official scholarly record, which means that if it’s an important development in research, it will probably turn up in a journal article eventually.
In their article, “Peer Review in Scientific Publications: Benefits, Critiques, & A Survival Guide,” Kelly, Sadeghieh, and Khosrow (2014) provide a longer explanation of the peer review process, which concludes that it is good but not perfect.
Parts of a Scholarly Article
The articles you use for your assignments must also be relevant to your research question—not just credible. Reading specific parts of an article can help save you time as you decide whether an article is relevant.
Video: Guided Tour of a Scholarly Article
This video describes the common parts of scholarly articles.
Reading a scholarly article usually takes some effort. Read Michael Fosmire’s How to Read a Scientific Paper for tips on how to do this.
Finding Scholarly Articles
Most scholarly articles are housed in specialized databases. Libraries (public, school, or company) often provide access to scholarly databases by paying a subscription fee for patrons. For instance, most libraries provide access to databases via Databases Lists or Research Guides. These databases are made available free to people affiliated with the University. For more information, including how to search databases, see the section on Specialized Databases.
Most databases on the web are actually search engines, such as Google Scholar, a free scholarly search tool available to all who have access to the Internet, and it provides some scholarly articles. For more information, see our section on using Google Scholar.