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Evaluating Sources: Scholarly References

What is a Scholarly Article?

While there may be exceptions, below are some general guidelines you can use to determine if an article is from a scholarly or popular source.





Author is an expert in the field – PhD, researcher, etc. – name and credentials always provided

Author is a writer or journalist


Reviewed and evaluated by editorial board of outside scholars (peer reviewed or refereed)

Reviewed by editors on staff of the magazine

References and Citations

Contains footnotes, endnotes, bibliography, or works cited

Contains few, if any, references


Uses jargon or technical language specific to the field

Uses everyday language for general audience


Mostly print, but may contain illustrations relating to the text such as graphs or charts

Glossy, color pictures


Usually longer, contains in-depth coverage and/or analysis of a topic; may be divided into formal sections such as: abstract, literature review, methodology, conclusions

Usually shorter, giving a broad or superficial view of a topic

Standards for Scholarly References

When writing a scholarly (academic) paper, the resources cited should be scholarly as well. Keep in mind the following criteria when determining what sources to use as a reference.

  1. References should be from peer reviewed primary care and specialty care journals reflecting evidence based practice.  Use library resources to find these journals.

  2. Other references may be from nationally recognized organizations (i.e. Institute of Medicine, National Institute of Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).

  3. Also, specialty organizations that provide guidelines for management such as the American Diabetes Association (the section written for professionals only) are acceptable. Often society guidelines are excellent. You do need to look at the dates of these guidelines as often they have not been revised for quite some time. If the guidelines have not been published recently, more current research articles covering the topic should be utilized in addition to the guidelines. The goal is that you use the most current, credible information available.

  4. Do not cite or reference faculty members (unless it's one of their publications). If you want to cite information from the Let's Talk section of a course, look at the references for that section.  After reviewing them, cite what you want to use based on your own study and review.

What is a Scholarly Article? (Handout)

The handout below provides a quick overview of the characteristics of a scholarly article versus those of an article from the popular press.

Examples of Research Articles

For examples of articles in nursing research journals, check out this guide which provides the table of contents for several journals.