What are scholarly sources?

Scholarly sources are written by academics, researchers and other experts in a particular field of study. Their purpose is to share recent research, theories, analyses and insights, or to provide summaries of current thinking in the field. Scholarly sources can include materials such as:

In-depth articles written by experts in a particular field of study. They are published in journals (essentially magazines but for an academic audience) which are usually published multiple times per year and are organised by volumes and issues.

Example:The effects of active social media engagement with peers on body image in young women

Provide an in-depth overview on a particular research topic. Collections of articles or chapters, written by different authors, are often collated into an edited book focusing on a topic area.


An individual research paper that was presented at an academic conference. Papers from the same conference are often compiled into a single publication known as a conference proceeding.


What is peer-review?

Some scholarly sources, particularly journal articles, undergo an editorial process known as peer-review, whereby the item is sent to other experts (peers) in the same field as the author/s for review before publication. These peers review the item to ensure the research presented is accurate and reliable, and based on sound research methodologies. The peers are often ‘blinded’ so they do not know who has written the article to minimise potential for bias in their feedback.

The following table outlines some differences between scholarly and popular sources

Features Scholarly Popular
Authors - Author is usually an expert in the field
- Author’s affiliations and/or qualifications are usually provided
- Author is often a generalist such as a staff writer, journalist or blogger
Audience - Intended for specialised readership including academics, researchers, students, etc.
- Provide in-depth analysis on a specific topic
- Intended for a general audience
- Usually short and broad in coverage
Language - Uses specialised and discipline specific language - Uses general, popular language
Review - Usually reviewed and critically evaluated by other experts in the field before publication - Usually reviewed by editorial staff before publication
Supporting documentation - Usually provide evidence in the form of references to support research - References generally not provided but may refer to recent research studies
Images - Images, tables etc. used to support text - Often includes advertising and glossy images
Examples - Journal of Architecture
- Journal of Communication
- Handbook of research on digital media and creative technologies
- Habitat
- Newsweek
- Social media design for dummies

How do I know if a source is scholarly?

The following points can help you decide if a source is scholarly:

  • Authors - are the authors given? Are they affiliated with an educational or research institution or government agency? Do they provide their educational qualifications?
  • Audience - is it written for an academic audience (scholars, researchers)? Does it use specialised or discipline specific language?
  • Purpose - why has the source been written? Is it to report on or summarise research on a topic?
  • References - does it provide references to support the research?
  • Peer-review - has it undergone peer review (this mostly applies to journal articles)?

Read: Communications toolkit Chapter 3: Identifying and evaluating appropriate resources.

Currency of scholarly sources

You have been asked to find recent sources on your topic, but what does this mean? Usually items published within the last five to ten years are considered recent, but it largely depends on the subject you are investigating. Topics in rapidly changing areas such as computing or medicine often demand very current information. However; in the arts and humanities older sources may be appropriate, especially if you want to establish historical context or highlight important studies essential to the understanding of a topic.