Writing can generally be classified into two categories, popular or scholarly. Some indications that something is scholarly: authors are clearly indicated, citations and/or a bibliography are included, is published by academic presses or scholarly/professional organizations, and conclusions are based on the evidence provided.
While you will usually need scholarly materials for most of your research, sometimes popular sources can offer good background information. For certain topics popular sources are more abundant than scholarly ones. For example, while there are peer-reviewed journals about popular music, if you need information about a recent concert or band, a popular source like Billboard or Rolling Stone may be what you need.
Scholarly resources may also be peer-reviewed, meaning other scholars have looked at it and vetted it as good research before it's published. Popular writing may be edited by someone for style and clarity, but is usually not reviewed rigorously for content.
Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed sources) are written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news. These resources will provide the most substantial information for your research and papers.
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.
Scholarly sources’ authority and credibility improve the quality of your own paper or research project.
The following characteristics can help you differentiate scholarly sources from those that are not. Be sure to look at the criteria in each category when making your determination, rather than basing your decision on only one piece of information.
Each resource type below will also have unique criteria that can be applied to it to determine if it is scholarly.
Image and content adapted from "Determine If a Source Is Scholarly" by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Undergraduate Library. Accessed Jan 6 2021. https://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/howdoi/scholarly/.