Home > Library > Working With Sources > A Complete Guide to the Use of Scholarly Sources

A Complete Guide to the Use of Scholarly Sources

Published by at October 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 17, 2023

In today’s digital age, where information is abundant and just a few clicks away, discerning the credibility and authenticity of the information we consume has become more crucial than ever. As students, researchers, professionals, or simply lifelong learners, we often find ourselves navigating through a sea of information, trying to find what is reliable and relevant. This includes understanding distinctions such as primary source vs secondary source.

This is where scholarly sources come into play. But what exactly are these sources, and why are they so vital in academic and professional work? How to use sources in academics effectively is a critical skill to master. Let’s discuss.

Definition of Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources, also known as academic sources, refer to materials created to meet the standards and expectations of the academic community. These sources typically undergo a rigorous review process, often involving multiple experts in the subject area who evaluate the content for its accuracy, validity, and originality. This spectrum ranges from primary to secondary and even tertiary sources.

Unlike popular sources, such as magazines or news websites, scholarly sources prioritise depth, rigorous methodology, and comprehensive analysis over broad appeal.

Common examples of scholarly sources include:

  • Peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Academic books and book chapters
  • Conference papers
  • Theses and dissertations

Importance of Using Scholar Sources in Academic Writing

Here is why scholarly sources are important in academic writing.


Scholarly sources are authored by experts who have devoted significant time and effort to their areas of specialisation. This means that the information presented is typically well-researched and backed by evidence, enhancing the credibility of your work when you cite it.

Depth of Analysis

These sources provide comprehensive insights into specific topics. They delve deep into subjects, offering nuanced arguments, detailed findings, and thorough discussions.

Foundation for Further Research

Using scholarly sources ensures you build on a solid knowledge foundation. This is essential for creating new research questions, hypotheses, or theories.

Avoiding Misinformation

With the peer-review process in place, scholarly sources are less likely to contain errors or biased information compared to non-scholarly sources.

Meeting Academic and Professional Standards

Many institutions and professional organisations have standards requiring the use of scholarly sources to maintain the integrity and quality of work within the field. Part of this process is understanding how to cite sources appropriately to give credit where it is due.

Characteristics of Scholarly Sources

Here are some primary characteristics of scholarly sources:

Authors’ Credentials

The authors of scholarly sources are typically experts in their field. Their credentials, affiliations, and academic or research backgrounds are usually provided.

Structured Format

Scholarly articles, especially those in scientific fields, often follow a specific structure that includes an abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and references.

Peer Review

Before publication in a reputable journal, the article usually undergoes a rigorous peer review process. Experts in the field evaluate the submission for its validity, methodology, relevance, and contribution to the field.


Scholarly articles reference previous work in the field. They have extensive bibliographies or works cited lists to show where their information comes from.

Technical or Specialised Language

Scholarly sources use the specific jargon or terminology of the field. The language is often more complex and precise than in popular sources.

Publication Source

Academic publishers or professional organisations typically publish them. Look for names like “Journal of…”, “Quarterly Review of…”, or “Annals of…”.


Scholarly sources are often research-based, meaning they present new findings, methodologies, theories, reviews, or discussions pertinent to a specific field.

Graphs, Charts, and Tables

Many scholarly articles, especially in the sciences, include data and its visual representations.

Absence of Ads

Unlike magazines or newspapers, scholarly journals typically don’t have flashy advertisements. If ads are present, they’re usually for other academic books, journals, or professional conferences.


The primary aim of a scholarly source is to share research findings, methodologies, and knowledge, and not necessarily to entertain.


While news articles might become outdated quickly, scholarly articles often remain relevant for longer, serving as a foundation for future research.

Unbiased Tone

While not always free of bias, scholarly articles strive for an objective tone. They present facts, research findings, and arguments based on evidence.

Difference between Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Sources

Both scholarly and non-scholarly sources have their place in research and information gathering. However, they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. Here is a breakdown of their differences:


Scholarly: The primary aim is to report original research, review previous findings, or introduce theories and methodologies. The focus is on advancing knowledge in a particular field.

Non-Scholarly: These sources aim to entertain, inform, or persuade a general audience. They might report on current events, offer opinions, or provide general information.


Scholarly: Authored by experts or specialists in a particular field. Their credentials and affiliations are usually stated.

Non-Scholarly: May be written by journalists, freelancers, or the public without specific expertise in the topic they’re covering.

Review Process

Scholarly: Undergoes a peer-review process where other experts in the field assess the content’s quality, validity, and relevance.

Non-Scholarly: Often reviewed by editorial staff, but not subjected to a rigorous peer-review process.

Language and Structure

Scholarly: Contains technical or specialised language specific to the discipline. Follows a structured format (e.g., abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion).

Non-Scholarly: Uses more accessible language for a general audience and lacks the structured format of scholarly sources.


Scholarly: Contains citations and an extensive bibliography or reference list, crediting sources and previous research.

Non-Scholarly: May lack references entirely or have limited citations.

Publication Source

Scholarly: Published by academic presses or professional organisations.

Non-Scholarly: Published by commercial publishers, news outlets, or private entities.


Scholarly: More text-heavy, often includes graphs, charts, and tables. Usually lacks flashy advertisements.

Non-Scholarly: May have numerous advertisements, colourful images, and a more magazine-like layout.

Duration and Frequency

Scholarly: Typically published less frequently (e.g., quarterly, annually).

Non-Scholarly: Might be published daily, weekly, or monthly.


Scholarly: Journal of Clinical Psychology, The American Historical Review.

Non-Scholarly: Time Magazine, The New York Times, personal blogs.

The research done by our experts have:

  • Precision and Clarity
  • Zero Plagiarism
  • Authentic Sources

How to Find Scholarly Sources

Finding scholarly sources is crucial for academic and in-depth research. Here are some steps and tips to guide you in your search:

Use Academic Databases

  • University Libraries: Most universities offer online databases to their students. Some popular options include EBSCOhost, ProQuest, and Academic Search Premier.
  • Google Scholar: A freely accessible web search engine that indexes scholarly literature across various disciplines and formats.
  • PubMed: Excellent for life sciences and biomedical topics.
  • JSTOR: Archives of older scholarly journals across various disciplines.
  • ScienceDirect: Comprehensive database for scientific and technical research.
  • PsycINFO: Best for psychology and related fields.
  • IEEE Xplore: For electrical engineering, computer science, and electronics.

Visit a University or College Library

If you have access to a physical academic library, the librarians can be invaluable in helping you locate scholarly sources.

Check Bibliographies and References

When you find a good scholarly article, check its bibliography or reference list. This can lead you to other relevant scholarly works on the topic.

Evaluate Websites Carefully

Not all online sources are scholarly. However, some institutions, organisations, or government agencies offer peer-reviewed or scholarly content. Check the credentials of the author and the rigour of the content.

Use Advanced Search Features

Many databases and search engines, like Google Scholar, offer advanced search features. This lets you narrow down results by year, publication type, subject area, etc.

Limit your Search to Peer-reviewed Journals

Most academic databases provide an option to limit search results only to peer-reviewed or scholarly journals.

Access through Interlibrary Loan

If your institution does not have access to a particular scholarly source, they might be able to get it for you from another library.

Use Reference Management Software

Tools like Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote can help you organise, store, and cite scholarly sources efficiently.

Open Access Journals

Websites like the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) provide a collection of scholarly articles that are freely accessible to everyone.

Consult Experts or Professors

If you are a student, your professors or advisors might provide recommendations for scholarly sources or databases relevant to your field.

Check for Access Credentials

If you are not affiliated with a university, some local libraries offer their members access to academic databases. Also, some professional organisations provide their members with access to specific industry journals or publications.

How to Evaluate the Credibility of Sources

Evaluating the credibility of sources is a crucial step in research and in discerning accurate information from misinformation. Here are some guidelines to help you assess the credibility of a source:


  • Who wrote or produced the content?
  • Are they an expert in the field? Do they have relevant academic degrees or professional experience?
  • Do they have other publications on the topic?

Publication Source

  • Is the source a respected and established publication, such as a reputable journal, book publisher, or news organisation?
  • Is the material peer-reviewed? Other experts in the field critique peer-reviewed articles before publication.


  • When was the source published or last updated?
  • Is the information still relevant and current, especially in fast-evolving fields like technology or medicine?

References and Citations

  • Does the source provide a bibliography or cite its information?
  • Reliable sources usually back up their claims with evidence and references.

Bias and Objectivity

  • Does the source present a balanced view, or is there a clear bias? For example, a primary source might offer direct insights or raw data, while a secondary source will interpret or analyse that information. Knowing the difference can guide your evaluation.
  • Is the purpose to inform, persuade, or sell something?
  • Check the tone: is it emotional or objective?

Accuracy and Consistency

  • Cross-check the information with other sources. Do they corroborate?
  • Are there any obvious errors or unverified claims?

Publisher’s Credentials

  • Who is the publisher? Are they reputable?
  • Academic institutions, established organisations, and recognised publishing houses often have rigorous standards.

Domain Authority (for online sources)

  • Websites ending in .edu (educational institutions), .gov (government), or .org (often non-profits) might be more credible but always assess the content critically.
  • Investigate the website’s “About Us” or similar section to understand its mission and credentials.

Reviews and Feedback

  • For books or articles, look for reviews by other scholars or experts.
  • Be cautious of sources with numerous negative reviews or criticisms about inaccuracies.

Quality and Presentation

  • Does the source appear professional?
  • Are there grammatical or spelling errors? Such mistakes can sometimes (but not always) indicate a lack of thoroughness or credibility.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Yes, the Encyclopædia Britannica is considered a reputable reference work, with articles often written by experts in their respective fields. However, academic research is typically used as a general source rather than a primary or scholarly one. Always consult specific guidelines provided by instructors or institutions.

  • Navigate to Google Scholar (scholar.google.com).
  • Enter keywords related to your topic.
  • Filter results to identify first-hand accounts, original research articles, diaries, letters, or documents.
  • Check the document type; primary sources are often labelled as “original research” or similar terms.

No, CNN is a mainstream news outlet, not a scholarly source. While it provides news and analysis on current events, its content isn’t peer-reviewed like articles in scholarly journals. For academic research, it’s important to differentiate between news media and scholarly publications, using CNN for context rather than primary evidence.

Not all books are scholarly sources. Scholarly books, often termed “monographs,” are typically written by experts in the field, peer-reviewed, and published by academic presses. They contribute original research or deep analysis. To determine a book’s scholarly nature, consider the author’s credentials, publisher, citations, and intended audience.

Gallup is a global analytics and advisory firm known for its public opinion polls. While it’s a reputable source for statistics on public sentiments and trends, it’s not a traditional “scholarly” source like academic journals. Nonetheless, Gallup’s data can be valuable for academic discussions, provided it’s cited correctly.

Yes, JSTOR is a digital library containing thousands of academic journals, books, and primary sources. It provides access to scholarly publications across various disciplines. Researchers, students, and academics often use JSTOR as a trusted source for peer-reviewed articles and historical documents in their scholarly work.

The World History Encyclopedia, formerly known as the Ancient History Encyclopedia, is a non-profit organisation providing articles on historical topics. While its content is researched and often written by experts, it aims for accessibility over academic rigour. It’s a reliable starting point, but not a primary scholarly source like peer-reviewed journals.

No, Forbes is a business magazine known for its articles on finance, industry, investing, and marketing topics. While it provides valuable insights and information on various subjects, it is not a scholarly source in the same way academic journals are. It’s more suited for general information rather than academic research.

Google Scholar is a search engine that indexes scholarly articles from various disciplines. While it provides access to many peer-reviewed journals and academic publications, the quality of sources can vary. Users should evaluate individual articles for credibility. 

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a respected publication that covers business and management topics. While experts and academics often author its articles, HBR is designed for practitioners rather than scholars. Thus, it straddles the line between professional insights and scholarly rigour, making it a reputable but non-traditional source.

A “.edu” domain typically indicates a website affiliated with an educational institution. While many .edu websites host scholarly content or provide information from reputable institutions, the domain alone doesn’t guarantee the content is scholarly. Users should evaluate individual pages or documents for credibility and relevance to their research needs.

About Olive Robin

Avatar for Olive RobinOlive Robin, a master of English literature, is an academic researcher and author at ResearchProspect. Passionate about words, she delves into literature nuances with scholarly depth and precision.