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Cancer Center Summer Research Scholars: About scholarly articles

About Scholarly Articles

 Comparing Scholarly Journals & Popular Magazines

Scholarly Journals Popular Magazine
Advertising Few, if any, ads. Most ads will be for books, other journals, and academic conferences. Many slick ads for consumer products.
Appearance - Overall Sober and serious often presenting data or research results using charts, graphs, and equations. Flashy and glossy with many illustrations or pictures. Few charts and graphs. Definitely no equations.
Article Acceptance & Editing Uses a “peer review” or “referee” process, in which articles are reviewed by other experts in the field. Look for an “Instructions for Authors” section online at the journal's web page or look up the journal in Ulrich's Periodicals Directory. Articles are reviewed by the journal's editors before publication.
Article Length Varies, but often a very long paper. Generally shorter.
Article Structure Has an abstract, and often the abstract, like paper is structured into sections: introduction, methodology, results, and conclusions. Comparatively unstructured.
Audience Scholars, researchers, and students. Uses scholarly terminology and jargon. General public. Language is accessible to most readers.
Authors Experts in the field. The authors’ credentials, affiliations, and contact information are listed Reporters and freelance writers. Names and affiliations may not be listed.
References Includes extensive footnotes and/or bibliography. Rarely includes footnotes or bibliography.

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.
  • 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.

What does a Scholarly Article Look Like?

Title: a clear and succinct expression of the article's topic

Authors: all of the authors should be listed, with their institutions

Abstract: summary of the article


background information and a description of the author’s purpose  

Materials & Methods:

how the study was performed with enough detail so that other scientists could repeat the study  

Results:  includes new observations, data and findings   

Discussion and/or Conclusion:  what the findings mean and their implications; potential criticisms; avenues of future research

References: a listof all the works used or referred to in the paper

Steps to Reading a Scholarly Article:

First, Read the Abstract and skim the Introduction and Discussion. This will tell you what the authors intended to prove, how they went about it, and what actually happened.

Next, read the Methods and Materials section and the Results. These are the most complex parts of the article, but from them you will learn the details of the authors' methodology and the results of their research.

Third, re-read and take notes. 

If you can answer the following questions about the article, then you have a pretty good understanding of it.

  1. How does the research fit in with what was previously known?
  2. What is the author's hypothesis?
  3. How was the study designed?
  4. What were the author's conclusions?
  5. How is the study relevant?
  6. Who does the author represent?
  7. How was the study funded?

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