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VVC Library: What is a Scholarly Journal?

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What is a Scholarly Journal?

A scholarly journal (also referred to as academic journals, scientific journals, or peer reviewed journals) is a periodical that contains articles written by experts in a particular field of study. The articles are intended to be read by other experts or students of the field, and they are usually much more sophisticated and advanced than the articles found in general magazines. Many instructors assign research papers or projects that require students to read articles published in scholarly journals. This guide offers some tips to help distinguish scholarly journals from other periodicals.

Characteristics of a Scholarly Journal

To communicate the results of recent research in the field of study covered by the journal. Scholarly articles reflect a systematic and thorough study of a single topic, often involving experiments or surveys. Scholarly journals may also occasionally publish review articles that summarize the current state of knowledge on a topic.

Scholarly journals lack the advertising, colorful graphics, and photographs found in popular magazines. The articles are often lengthy, will begin with an abstract, and may include graphs, tables, or charts. Articles will include the name of the author or authors and a list of references.

Scholarly articles are written by the person(s) who did the research being reported. When more than two authors are listed for a single article, the first author listed is usually the primary researcher who supervised or coordinated the work done by the other authors. The most highly-regarded scholarly journals are usually those sponsored by professional associations; for example, the American Psychological Association and the American Chemical Society.

Validity and Reliability
Articles submitted to scholarly journals are evaluated by an editorial board and other experts before they are accepted for publication. This evaluation, often called "peer reviewed," is designed to insure that the articles published are based on solid research that meets the normal standards of the field of study covered by the journal.

Writing Style
Articles in scholarly journals are usually in-depth and contain an advanced vocabulary, since the authors use the technical language or jargon of their field of study. Articles are not written for the general public in that the authors assume the reader already possesses a basic understanding of the field of study.

The authors of scholarly articles always list the sources of their information. These references are usually listed at the end of an article, but they may appear in the form of footnotes, endnotes or a bibliography.

How to Determine if a Periodical is a Scholarly Journal

What to Look For in a Scholarly Journal Article

  • Abstract: An article from a scholarly journal will have an abstract- a summary on what the article is about.
  • Author's Credentials: Articles in scholarly journals are written by experts or researchers in a particular field of study. Look for advanced degrees or credentials attached to an author's name (i.e. M.S., Ph.D, M.D., etc) as well as their affiliations with particular institutions. 
  • Journal Name: The name of the journal is going to be professional in nature, and many are published via a professional organization or university press. 
  • Purpose: The purpose of the article is academic and/or scientific in nature, and reports on original research in a particular field of study. 
  • Language: Articles are written for professionals in the field or for those in academia, so technical language is used, and knowledge or familiarity is expected of the audience. 
  • References: Scholarly articles will always list the sources of their information. These sources can appear as references at the end of an article, but can also include footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography. 
  • Charts, Graphs, Statistics: Some scholarly journal articles will include charts, graphs, and statistics in order to demonstrate their results or how they achieved their results.
  • DOI Number: A DOI, or Digital Object Identifier, is a unique string of numbers and letters used to permanently identify an article and link it on the web. DOIs are primarily assigned to academic journal articles and research reports. Many scholarly articles will have DOIs attached to them. 
  • Peer-Review Process: The peer review process can be lengthy. An article is reviewed by professional peers to ensure that properly conducted research, experimentation, and writing is done before the article can be published. 
  • Literature Review: Some scholarly journals also publish literature reviews or an article may contain a literature review within it. A literature review is a summary of what is currently known about the topic. The review may not say "literature review," within the article itself.  Example: Information Literacy Research: Dimensions of the Emerging Collective Consciousness
  • Literary Criticism: Scholarly journals also publish literary criticism, which is the study, interpretation, and evaluation of literary works, which can be influenced by literary theories.  Example: Bram Stoker's Ireland: A Complex National Identity
  • Other Information: May also include acknowledgments, conflicts of interest, if any, and funding information. This may be located either at the beginning or the end of the article. 



In the Sanctuary of Animals: Honoring God's Creatures through Ritual and Relationship

The Eighteen of 1918–1919: Black Nurses and the Great Flu Pandemic in the United States

Promoting College and Career Readiness: Practical Strategies for the Classroom

Working Backwards: How Employment Regulation Hurts Unemployed Millennials 

Empirical Research Articles

Empirical research articles report primary research based on observations or experiments in a particular field of study. Qualitative research uses observation methods to analyze behaviors, beliefs, feelings, or values and gather non-numerical data. Quantitative research uses numerical data and statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques to measure, analyze, and explain phenomena or causal relationships.  

REMEMBER: Empirical Research Articles are from scholarly or professional journals and are peer-reviewed. They will have the same criteria as scholarly articles listed above (abstract, references, DOI, etc.) but will also have the following criteria: 

What to Look For in an Empirical Research Article:

  • Introduction: An empirical study will have an introduction or “literature review”, which will be a summary of what is currently known about the topic. It can include theoretical frameworks and information about previous studies as well.
  • Methodology: Describes how to recreate the study and discusses the population, research process, analytical tools, and any other important information related to the study.
  • Results: May also appear as “findings.” Discusses what was learned in the study. Might present statistical data, quotes from the participants, graphs, charts, and other information.
  • Discussion: May also be called “conclusion” or “implications” or will have a separate section for this under the discussion portion of the study. This part of the article will describe why the study is important. Can also describe how the research results can or will influence the field itself, or what changes, if any, may occur due to the findings of the study. May also include a section titled "limitations," describing what limitations should be taken into account. 
  • Professional Journals: addressed to a professional audience and may contain research articles, reports, and practical information applicable to a field of study. Use professional journals if they are peer-reviewed and have the previously cited criteria. 
  • Other Information: An empirical research article can also include information sections on funding, acknowledgments, author contributions, as well as ethics and consent to participate approval. This may appear either at the beginning or the end of the article. 
  • References: Articles will always list their sources of their information. These sources can appear as references at the end of an article, but can include footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography. 

Alternative Terminology to use when Searching the Databases instead of "Empirical Research":

  • Case Studies                                                           •  Longitudinal Method
  • Fieldwork/ Field Studies                                          •  Statistics
  • Experimental Studies                                              •  Research Methodology
  • Qualitative Studies                                                  •  Analysis of Variance
  • Quantitative Studies                                                •  Correlation (Statistics) 
  • Action Research                                                      •  Data Analysis
  • Evaluation Methods/Research                                •  Research
  • Mixed Methods Research                                       •  Psychological Tests
  • Descriptive Statistics                                               •  Statistical Sampling 
  • Questionnaires                                                        •  Scale Analysis (Psychology)


Come Together: Case Specific Cross-Institutional Cooperation of Youth Welfare Services and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 

Matrix Training of Receptive Language Skills with a Toddler with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case Study

A Dyadic Analysis of Power in Sibling and Friend Conflict in Early Childhood

Parenting Deferentially Influences the Development of Boys’ and Girls’ Inhibitory Control

Periodicals That Are Not Scholarly Journals

Popular Magazines
These are periodicals that one typically finds at grocery stores, airport newsstands, or bookstores in a shopping mall. Magazines are designed to appeal to a broad segment of the population, and contain relatively brief articles written in a readable, non-technical language. Articles written for a wide audience and are useful when looking for information on current events, special topics and general interests. Examples include: Car and Driver, Essence, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Psychology Today.

News Magazines
These periodicals, which are usually issued weekly, can be useful for information on trending topics or current events, but their articles seldom have the depth or authority of scholarly articles. Examples include: Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report.

Professional Publications or Trade Journals
These periodicals cover a specific profession or field of interest and report on developments, trends and news in a profession, trade, or industry. Advertising will be geared toward professionals in that specific field, and may include information promoting upcoming professional conferences.  Examples include: Library Journal, Young Children, and Nursing.

Popular databases to search for Scholarly and Peer Reviewed Sources