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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.

This page will help you. Click the tab for "Definition" to get started.

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. This doesn't make them any more or less reliable. In fact, the content is exactly the same, whether it's published online or in hard-copy.
  • It's important to distinguish between these published journals, and the various blogs and personal websites posted online.
    • You can recognize a journal because it has been published with a journal name, volumes & issues, and the article has page numbers within the issue.

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

  • Before it's 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

Scholarly communication is the process of learning from these articles, applying the information toward further research, and publishing new articles.  The scholarly journals provide a public forum for scholars to comment, critique, and respond to the work of others.

Publication is an ongoing conversation between experts.  They read the research of others, then build upon it by taking it a step further or possibly in a different direction. Then they publish their research for others to build upon.  It's how our collective knowledge grows.

Finding Articles is a Creative Process

Millions of articles are published every year, in thousands of scholarly journals. The articles explore the latest in research and information.

There is actually NO:

  • single place to look to find all journal articles,
  • list of every article available in a specific library, or
  • database of every article published on a topic.

That's why searching takes time, effort, and creativity.

The Trent University Library maintains over 30,000 current journal subscriptions, most of which are accessible only online.  They're owned and hosted by various publishers, who sell us access.  While the Library organizes this material so you can find it, there are multiple routes you can take to get to the same information.  What matters most is WHAT you find, rather than HOW you find it.

Omni is our library search tool that searches all the full text articles available through the Trent library. It's a great place to start your search, but it may not be as effective at targeting specific articles on a topic.

An index is considered  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 resources (Omni or Get It! Trent) to find out whether your library subscribes to those journals and how you get to them.

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

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 this an article from a scholarly journal?
  • Author: Is the author a scholar or expert in this subject?
  • Bibliography: Is  a list of relevant scholarly 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 (data) gathered from 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 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.