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ENG1110 English Composition & Written Composition

An Introduction to the Research Process and Basic Information Literacy Skills

Scholarly Characteristics

What are the Differences?

Your professor has told you to use articles from scholarly or peer-reviewed journals, but how do you know if a periodical is scholarly? See the following chart to learn about the different characteristics of scholarly journals and popular magazines.

Characteristics to look for in periodicals to determine academic quality:

Scholarly Journals Popular Magazines
Appearance: Have a serious look with plain text, seldom glossy. Appearance: Attractive and eye-catching style.
Audience: Written FOR professors, students or researchers. Audience: General and casual readers.
Authors: Written BY experts, scholars, researchers who give their credentials and affiliations in the articles. Authors: Written by reporters, freelance writers, or magazine staff often without credentials.
Review Process: Reviewed by experts or peer reviewed. Review Process: Reviewed by magazine editors.
Format: Articles are presented and follow a pattern with abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, possibly footnotes, endnotes and/or bibliography. Format: Articles are presented to be eye-catching and sectioned for fast & easy reading.
Graphics: Usually have graphs, charts, tables and illustrations to support research. Graphics: Have glossy pictures, eye-catching graphics, cartoons & illustrations.
Sources: Sources are cited and articles include footnotes/endnotes/in-text citation and bibliographies (Bibliography/References/Works Cited). Sources: Rarely have bibliographies or cite their sources.
Advertising: Have no advertising or very little. Advertising: Have heavy advertising.
Publisher: Usually published by professional organizations, scholarly societies, or universities. Publisher: Published by general or commercial publishers or other media groups for profit.


To determine if an online journal article in a library database is scholarly, look for the following characteristics:

  • Research method is explained (see the abstract for a synopsis of the method).
  • Sources are cited (see the Bibliography / References for sources cited).
  • Authors are clearly identified.

Example of an online scholarly journal article record from a database:

TIP: If your instructor asks that you use scholarly or peer reviewed journals for your research, you may limit your search to Scholarly or Peer Reviewed journals only in several of HIU Library's research databases. In ProQuest databases, limit to "Scholarly" or "Peer Reviewed". In EBSCOhost databases, limit to "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals".

The term, "peer reviewed", refers to scholarly journals' policy of having articles examined by experts in the subject before the articles are accepted for publication.

Watch this video:
This video focuses on the differences between popular magazines and scholarly journals.

Click the "Full Screen" icon in the bottom right corner of the video to enlarge it for viewing.

Characteristics to look for in books to determine academic quality:

Book publishers - What do you know about the publisher? Is the publisher known for publishing books used by scholars? University presses (Oxford University Press, University of California, etc.) publish scholarly and well-researched titles. If you don't know, look up the publisher's web site and see if you can determine the nature of the books published by them.

Footnotes and Bibliographies - Does the book include footnotes or in-text citations? Does the book include a Bibliography (also known as References or Works Cited)? These are characteristics of scholarly books as well as journal articles.

Edited material - Was the book assembled by one or more editors with contributions from other authors? Editors act as a review committee and make sure the contributors are factual and accurate. An editorial note is likely to be found in the introduction to the book if the material is controversial, theoretical, or still under investigation.

Books in a university library collection - Books in university libraries are generally purchased with the goal of supporting classes and research at that institution. Librarians work with faculty and professional resources to select the best from the thousands of books, journals and electronic resources published every year. This gets rid of a large amount of junk or lesser-quality materials in order to bring you the best. This is a more focused and evaluated collection that jumping into the Internet, so why not start with your library catalog for resources?