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Tutorial: Scholarly Articles:

Scholarly Articles


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During your studies at Trent many of your course instructors will be asking you to use scholarly articles for your research. It will be your responsibility to learn:

  • what they are;
  • how to find them;
  • how to recognize them;
  • how to read them; and
  • how to use them in your research papers.

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What Are Scholarly Articles?

Put simply, scholarly articles are articles written by scholars, covering a subject in the author's area of expertise, and published in journals, usually following a "peer-review" process

The scholars are most often University professors (with a PhD), such as those teaching your courses. As well as teaching, professors actively pursue research in their subject area.

  • They complete original research, write papers, and give presentations at international conferences.
  • Their articles are published in academic (scholarly) journals.

A journal is an academic version of a magazine.

  • Journals come in issues, which are sent to our Library on a regular basis (usually monthly).
    • Several issues make up a volume (usually a year's worth).
  • Our library subscribes to over 30,000 journals, which are constantly publishing new issues.
  • Most of our subscriptions are for online journals, which we access over the internet without ever seeing a hard-copy (paper) issue.
  • It's important to distinguish between these published journals, and the various blogs and personal websites posted online.

The "peer-review" process ensures that no research or paper is automatically accepted as valid.

  • Before it is published, several scholars in the subject area (PhDs again) review the article and agree that it is worthy of publication.
  • Unlike the open web (where anyone can post anything), scholarly journals strive to publish only legitimate, new research of interest to scholars.

Scholarly communication is the process of learning from these articles, applying the information toward further research, and publishing new articles.  This also allows scholars to comment, critique, and respond to the work of others, through these scholarly journals.

This process is an ongoing conversation between experts.  They read the research of others, then build upon it, taking it a step further or possibly in a different direction.  It's how our collective knowledge grows.

Finding Articles is Complicated

This is a process that takes some time to get used to; it's not as easy as "googling". There isn't any one way of finding all scholarly articles written on any topic. The method varies with the subject and topic you are researching, the depth of your research, and your familiarity with library resources.

Generally, an index is the gateway to scholarly journal literature.

  • An index is an online database of article descriptions (citations).
  • When you want to find an article on a topic, you use an index to find out which journals have published articles of interest.
  • Next, you use your library catalogue (or E-Journals A-Z) to find out whether your library subscribes to those journals.
  • It's a process that takes time and thought.

Almost all indexes are online, so if you have good keyword searching skills, you can find articles quickly. Online indexes often (but not always) link to the online articles, too. But they can only get you the articles for which you have legal online access, and those are usually the journals our Library subscribes to.

  • We subscribe to over 30,000 journals online, but that's not everything that's published.
  • A few journals are in print, and you need to get them off the library shelves.
  • Some journals are available to the public for free - these are called open-access journals.  When using these, you want to be especially careful that they're reputable and scholarly.
  • Some journals just aren't available because we don't subscribe to them at all. You can still get these articles using RACER (our Interlibrary Loan system), but it takes a little more time.

The process of using indexes to find articles is covered later, in our Finding Articles tutorial.

Using Google

Scholarly articles aren't easily located by using an Internet search engine such as Google. That's because the articles are only available to people or institutions who have subscribed to them, and Google can't provide access to them. (See more information about using Google below.)

The Trent Library enables access to online articles and their indexes through our subscriptions, and you only have access to them as long as you are a student here. You'll even need to use the Proxy Server (see link below) if you're not working on a campus computer.

Helpful Links

You'll likely need to know about using indexes in your first or second year of study at Trent, but it won't be taught in class.  There's a tutorial that explains how to use indexes to find articles. (You probably need to read that too, if you haven't already.)

The follow links may be helpful.

How Do You Recognize Scholarly Resources?

There's an art to recognizing legitimate scholarly resources. Think of J-A-B-s-a to remember what to look for:

  • Journal: Is it scholarly?
  • Author: Is s/he a scholar?
  • Bibliography: Is there a list of relevant references provided?
  • source: Did you find out about this article from a scholarly source?
  • abstract: Does the abstract describe authentic research?

The link below connects you to our online tutorial for recognizing scholarly sources using JABsa.  It takes about 20 minutes to read it through, and there are exercises included, to help you practice. Read it now, so you have some background when you need to start the process.

How To Read A Scholarly Article

Scholarly articles are written for scholars, so they are NOT light reading. They're usually many pages long and complex. You need practice. The more you read them, the easier it gets.

Scholarly articles are commonly written with labeled sections:

  1. Abstract: a brief synopsis of the article is presented at the beginning.
  2. Background / Introduction: an explanation of why the research was needed and what was previously understood (including a literature review).
  3. Methodology / Procedure: an outline of the research performed.
  4. Results / Findings / Observations: the results of the research, including graphs/charts.
  5. Discussion / Conclusions: interpretation and explanation of the results, including future research directions.
  6. Bibliography / References / Works Cited: a list of works consulted in order to complete the research.

When you're first presented with an article, think about what you hope to learn from it and then look for evidence of that.

  • You don't always need to read it front to back; you can jump around. 

Here's one way to read it:

  1. title, because scholarly articles tend to have very descriptive titles
  2. abstract, to get a general overview of the content
  3. authors' credentials, to ensure that they are experts on the topic
  4. Discussion / Conclusions, to get to the core and see how the research done affects your topic

Once you've determined if the article is useful to your topic, read it in its entirety. That's the only way you can understand how the works in the bibliography are connected to the topic, and the context of the conclusions.

Using Scholarly Articles in Your Papers

You can't use someone else's ideas as your own - that's plagiarism. (You know this already!  Yet because so many students don't always remember or understand, you'll hear a lot about this from your Profs.) 

When you read papers and books, you get ideas from them. Your responsibility in writing your paper, is to thread together those ideas in a cohesive manner to come up with thoughts of your own. Always acknowledge where the ideas came from originally, using quotes and references in your paper. You'll see that done all the time in the scholarly articles you're reading.

You'll be hearing more about Academic Integrity from the Academic Skills Centre.

References / Bibliography

When you incorporate the ideas from other documents into your own paper, you create citations for them.  This enables your readers to locate the same works for their own research.  Citations follow a specific format, so that others can easily tell what type of document it is and determine how to locate it.  This is a vital part of scholarly communication.  You'll also benefit from it when you read a paper with a good bibliography and you use that bibliography to identify other useful articles for your research.

Style Guides

Your course instructors will specify which referencing style you are expected to use for your assignments. There are many different styles, and each is very specific and detailed.  Often there's an official and detailed guide that describes every possible situation, right down to the spacing, periods, and commas.  You refer to the style guides for specific situations.  In some cases, you need to interpret how a style pertains to your specific situation because it's not clear.

The publications of the various styles (Chicago Manual of Style, APA, MLA, ACS, etc.) are available in the Library, but you may need to keep your own copy nearby. Some styles imitate a specific journal, in which case you go to the journal's website for information.

There are also online sites to help you with referencing: see our webpage on Citation Guides and the Trent Academic Skills Centre's Documentation Guide.

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