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Health Law & Leadership of Healthcare Organizations Program: Understanding Scholarly Articles

Resources for students in the joint masters program at UC San Diego and Cal Western law school as well as the Leadership in Healthcare Organizations program from the UCSD School of Medicine.

Understanding Scholarly Resources

Scholarly vs. Popular Literature

Popular literature is designed for people at large - with appropriate language level and reflecting the taste, trends, and interests of the general population. It could include anything from newspapers to the more sensational magazine offerings and is usually for entertainment purposes. Scholarly literature on the other hand, is concerned with research and academic topics and is a tool for sharing an authoritative opinion.

Scholarly journals also look different from the popular magazines.  For conveying scientific information, authors often use graphs, charts, or equations and use language that is standard for the field (and sometimes is not easy to fully grasp).  In a popular magazine, it will very often be flashy and glossy with pictures or illustrations but vew charts or graphs - and definitely, no equations.

Curious?  Check out this chart for more details.

What are scholarly articles?

Scholarly works have several very specific qualities that set them apart from the popular works like newspapers, Time, Newsweek, or even online sources like Wired. Unfortunately, there is no perfect definition as scholarly can have multiple meanings and may not always look exactly the same. The following are the commonly used descriptions of scholarly works.

  • Original Research or "Primary Source"
Scholarly articles are ones that publish a researcher's original work. It will tell you: what, why, and how the researcher did the work; the results of the work; highlight some key data (often in figures,tables, or charts); and provide a discussion of the results and conclusions about the work.

 

  • Written by & for Experts in a Particular Field
Scholarly articles are written by authors who have credentials and experience with the subject to alert other experts to what they found. Typically, the language used is the language of the field and may have the technical terms and jargon common to that field.

 

  • Published in a Journal Specific to the Field
Many specialty areas have journals dedicated to that field, and this can be an indicator of its scholarly emphasis. For example, the following are a few journals that are well-recognized and specific to a particular field:

 

  • Peer-Review or Refereed
Some articles undergo an additional process. Before acceptance and publication by a journal, a panel of experts (not the journal editor) will review & evaluate the article. Suggestions for changes are often made to clarify certain points or it could be rejected. The process is sometimes noted on the article itself with submitted, reviewed, accepted dates.
  • Want to double check a journal? You can check the Ulrich's Periodicals Directory to see if the journal is listed as "refereed". After searching using the journals name, look for the little icon that looks like a referee's shirt.Ulrich's icon

  • Some "Secondary Sources" can be Scholarly
The previous points relate to journals and articles, but some books may also meet the definition of scholarly. Those texts that have editors and multiple authors are the most likely candidates as the sections have been written by experts in a particular field. You will also notice that every chapter has references. Publishing a book takes a long time, so be sure to use only very recent books to meet Dr. Brody's requirements.



What are the hallmarks of scholarly articles?


While you probably have never given much thought to scholarly articles and those qualities that make an article scholarly, if you think about it, you can probably think of a few things that are typical in scholarly works. A few of the characteristics include:

  • Author or list of authors and their academic credentials.
  • Institutional affiliations of the authors.
  • References of works cited in the article.
  • A structured abstract - mirroring the article sections of -- Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion.
  • Marks of the Peer-review process -- dates of submission, review, and acceptance.


Can you spot one when you see it?

Can You Spot One When You See It?

Can You Spot One When You See ItThis is a featured page

Sometimes, a quick visual check may convince you that an article is a scholarly or even a peer-reviewed one.


What do you notice about the following excerpts from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)?

Screen shot from JAMA
Hopefully, you saw the authors' affiliations, their credentials and the structured abstract.


What about this one from the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association?

Screen shot from JAMIA
Hopefully, you noticed the received & accepted dated. These dates reflect the peer-review process the article went throught before being published. As you can see, there was some time between those 2 dates. Did you also notice the structured abstract, the author affiliations and credentials?