Helping Students Identify Scholarly Sources

Working in higher education, we sometimes take for granted that we can recognize a scholarly source (ex. journal articles) versus something that is non-scholarly (ex. magazine article) when we see it.

Incoming students, however, may have a harder time. Some have not had a chance to use a scholarly source, like a peer-reviewed journal article, in an assignment and may not know what a scholarly source looks like. This can be especially tricky when these sources are digitized and placed online. While it is easy to tell a print journal from a print magazine when you have them in hand, some of the defining characteristics of a source can be lost when digitized.

For example, can you spot which of these articles below is from an academic journal?  What about which article is the magazine, newspaper or book review?

When articles are digitized some of the clues that would tell us if it is scholarly or non-scholarly (images, graphs, charts, visuals, glossy paper, advertisements, etc.) can be lost. When this happens, it can make selecting the appropriate item for an assignment tricky.

Helping Students in the Classroom

For the library’s 2018-2019 WIG, the focus was on helping students recognize scholarly and non-scholarly sources. During Information Literacy classes, librarians helped students learn the difference by having the students investigate two mystery articles.

First, students take a deep dive into exploring the characteristics of a scholarly resource vs a non-scholarly resource using one of the library’s online research guides. These guides are built and tailored to a specific course, assignment or activity. Next, students are asked to use the chart below to compare and contrast two mystery articles. Based on the clues available, they choose which of the two articles is the scholarly one and which is the non-scholarly one. Then as a class the students report out which one they think is the scholarly article and defend their answers using the clues they found.


This chart was reused and adapted from “Savvy Info Consumers: What are Scholarly, Popular, & Trade Publications?” from the University of Washington Libraries.

If you would like to learn more about introducing scholarly vs non-scholarly to students, Information Literacy classes in the library, or about research guides, please contact the library at or (210) 486-4513.

Contributed by NVC Librarian Amanda Gorrell

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