What are scholarly sources?

Sources that are defined as scholarly are written by people within academia, commonly known as researchers or scholars. The sources are written by specialists, who are often considered authoritative within their specific field of competence. These individuals are known and acknowledged by their peers and colleagues in their respective fields. A noticeable characteristic of a scholarly paper is that it employs the language and writing style of its specific discipline. Making it more complex and/or technical to read than an article or text from a non-scholarly source. The main readers of scholarly sources are often people within academia and students, but it may also include others interested in research. 

What is the definition of a scholarly source? 

The short answer is that there is no strict universal definition of what constitutes a scholarly source. As a rule of thumb, we may say that a scholarly source is a peer-reviewed academic paper that has been written by acknowledged specialist(s) within the field of inquiry. The peer review process means that the article has undergone external review by several experts within the subject matter. All have agreed to let the article be published in a scientific journal. 

Scholarly sources can have different names and descriptions, the following being some of them: peer-reviewed (reviewed and accepted by experts before publication), refereed and academic sources. It’s also important to know that all peer-reviewed sources are considered scholarly, but not all scholarly sources are peer-reviewed. The purpose of the scientific journals is to keep its audience up to date by publishing the latest studies within the journals’ subject area. This includes the latest research, knowledge, news, insights, theories, findings and summaries within their field of expertise. The main purpose and intention is to contribute to the development and advancement of their writing subject. 

So what are the features and characteristics of a scholarly source? 

The first thing to recognize is that they tend to come in many different shapes, e.g. books, articles, theses, websites and conference publications to mention some. The publisher will undertakes an editorial process where the papers are reviewed in order to ensure the quality of the content. The article contains complete citations to other scholarly sources. It can be print-based but also electronic. Researchers, as well as students, will often use scholarly sources, particularly when writing their literature reviews.

How do we define a non-scholarly source then?

For starters; it is often people outside of academia, i.e. non-scholars, who writes non-scholarly sources. What is important to know is that they are written for a broader audience with a language and style that is easy to read and easy to understand for the general public. These are often based on the personal opinions of the writers themselves. They also tend to contain no or very weak references to other sources, with little to no external review made by scholars prior to publication. Where do we usually find these types of sources? Books for general audiences, movies, play reviews, editorials, primary sources, and news articles are common examples of non-scholarly sources.

It is important to state that the level of source criticism and academic rigor differs widely depending on the specific book or newspaper that is being considered. Even though these are typically not considered as scholarly sources that have undergone a peer review process, they can nonetheless be used as references in peer reviewed papers. The extent to which such sources are used depends on the academic discipline in question.