Scholarly Journal Tutorial

What is a scholarly journal?

The term "scholarly journal" is interchangeable with peer-reviewed, academic journal or research journal. All of these terms refer to articles which were written to share ideas and academic research amongst scholars’ in particular academic disciplines.

Common shared characteristics of scholarly articles, no matter what the discipline:

  • Language: specialized, advanced and particular to the discipline
  • Subject: narrow, well defined and pertinent to the discipline
  • Format: commonly consists of an abstract (summary of the article), introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion and/or conclusions
  • Bibliography/References: always present and in-text citations or footnotes are included as well
  • Author(s): will always be named along with their academic affiliation (that is, where they work)

What is not a scholarly resource?

Popular magazines and newspapers, while they often have a role to play in research are NOT scholarly. They are written by journalists and staff writers, not scholars and their language is geared to a general audience. They lack citations and sometimes an author is not even identified.

What does peer-reviewed mean?

Peer review is a process whereby journal articles are closely evaluated and critiqued by other experts on the topic before an article gets accepted (if it does) for publication. Here’s how it goes:

  • Article is submitted by a scholar/researcher and is either accepted or rejected by editor
  • If accepted, the editor sends it to expert peer-reviewers who either: accept without revisions, accept only if revisions are made or reject the article outright
  • If accepted, revisions are made by the researcher and approved
  • Article gets published

When you find an interesting article in a database…

Click on the title to get more information about the article. You will see what is called a “record” that will include the information seen in the image below and sometimes additional information such as study types, methodologies employed and more. Use this information to learn more about the content of the article and the authority of the author to make a decision about whether you want to read the article.

How do I tell the difference between a literature review and original research findings?

  • A literature review describes previous research or commentary that has been published about the topic.
  • This type of review can provide a good overview of the topic and will outline what other researchers have found.
  • As can be seen at left, literature reviews contain a lot of citations since they are referring to many of the other researchers who have published articles or books on the same topic in the past.

While original research findings usually start with a brief literature review to offer context for the research they will be presenting, they will quickly move to a methods sections where the methods (such as studies, surveys, questionnaires or lab work) employed in their research are described. That will vary widely depending on the discipline. The next section of the article will present all of the data that was collected as a result of the research. Typically, results are reported in statistical terms, often in the form of tables, charts, and graphs. You may not need to spend much time focusing on the details of this section; usually the closing Discussion/Conclusion section will summarize the meaning of the data for you.

How to read an academic article

Being an efficient and smart reader of scholarly content is very different than reading for fun. While different strategies will work for different people, here are some tips to get you started.

Before you read, pre-read.

  • Take a look at the title and the subjects attached to the article –that will tell you what the article is mainly about.
  • If there is an abstract, read it carefully. This is really important – it will tell you what the article’s point of view is, what types of studies were done and, it outlines the main arguments and the conclusions reached – all in one paragraph!
  • Read the introduction carefully – it will give you some more information than in the abstract and then skip to the conclusions and read those carefully. At this point you should definitely know if this article is going to help you write your paper.
  • Often, the introduction ends with an overview of how the paper will be structured – take note of that structure because it will tell you where the information you need in the article is.

Now what?

Now you read the article critically – you should be thinking to yourself things like:

Ah yes, that’s just what I expected she’d say. Wait, I thought she was arguing the opposite of that. Whoa, where’s this going—is it a new topic or further support for what we just saw? Aha, so that’s what he meant above by “...”; I’d better go back and re-read that paragraph now that I see what it’s talking about. Wow, that’s a bold claim; I wonder how it’s going to be backed up—because I don’t see how their research study really supports that...

The article’s authors must convince you and logically prove that their conclusions are the correct conclusions to reach. You as a scholar yourself, on the other hand, retain the right to disagree with them.

If possible, on the article itself or in your notes, note down the major points that are made. If you can do this it means that you are putting in the work to really understand the article and doing so will help you save time if you need to re-visit the article for purposes of writing a paper.

Getting through the hard parts

Some articles are actually poorly written or just plain hard to get through! Here are some tips to help you get through the tough ones:

  • Read out loud – it can help you focus
  • Read it in small, manageable chunks
  • Talk about it with someone else who is reading it
  • Change your reading environment if you are getting distracted
  • Look up words or theories if you do not understand them!