Answered By: Claire Sewell
Last Updated: Feb 24, 2016     Views: 1198

‘Scholarly’ books or journals are those which have been peer reviewed (or refereed). Peer review is the process to ensure that we can trust what’s in an article. It will have been read and evaluated by other specialists in the field (the ‘peers’ or ‘referees’) before publication.

So how do you know if a book or article has been peer reviewed? You should consider:

  • Who is the author? Does the author have an advanced degree and affiliation with a university that gives them authority on the subject? Scholarly publications will list the author’s credentials (what degrees they have earned, or where they are a professor).
  • Who is the publisher? Is the book or journal published by a university press or scholarly association (e.g. Cambridge University Press, Royal Society)? If so, it’s likely to be scholarly.
  • Content: Consider accuracy, bias (e.g. religious or political affiliation) and audience appropriateness. Does it use technical language which indicates that it has been written for an academic audience? Scholarly journal articles are usually structured in the following way: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, and references.
  • Cited Sources: Scholarly publications will have a list of references and/or a bibliography, while most of those written for a general audience don’t. Consider the quality of these sources. They should include other scholarly books or articles and primary sources.

For scholarly articles also look at:

  • Journal information: The first few pages (or at the end) of the journal, or the official journal website should have an ‘Instructions for author’s’ page which will mention the peer review process. Scholarly journals also usually list the editors' names and also their academic credentials. It may even say that the journal is peer reviewed or refereed!
  • Limiting a database search to peer reviewed journals only. Some databases allow you to limit searches for articles in peer reviewed journals only by checking a box on the search screen. In some databases you may have to go to an ‘advanced’ search screen to do this.

But beware! Although this is helpful, not all these results will be articles or peer reviewed some will be book reviews and editorials.

If you’re still not sure if it’s a scholarly book or article, ask your librarian.