You might be wondering if you even know what a scholarly article looks like. How are you supposed to know if you've never seen one? To figure out what a scholarly article is, it is good to start by comparing it to something with which you are already familiar: popular articles. You might not read actual glossy magazines, but think of Teen VOGUE, Men's Health, Time or the Economist, any of the titles pictured above. Popular and scholarly resources have certain characteristics that help you tell the difference between them. See the table below.
|shorter||longer, at least 7 pages, multiple columns on each page|
|written for a general audience, even when included in discipline specific magazine (ex. Psychology Today)||are written by experts in their field, for other experts; Peer-reviewed|
|written by the employees of the periodical who may or may not have experience or credentials on the topic||authors have credentials to be considered experts: PhD, MD, MA/MS|
|language is not technical and does not have a lot of jargon; easier to read and understand||language can be very technical and varies by subject. This can make these articles difficult to understand for people new to the field (students)|
|little to no actual citations and no bibliography/works cited list||full of citations and include a long list of references|
|contain advertisements and/or pictures||visual representation of data (charts, graphs, tables); no advertisements|
|come out more frequently: daily, weekly or monthly||come out less frequently: quarterly (4xs/year), twice, or once a year|
Published, scholarly information comes in a variety of packages, but the most dominant form overall is the research article, which is published in an academic journal.
An academic journal is a serialized publication, like a magazine or newspaper, though they are often published with less frequency like only once a year! Typically academic journals are published annually, quarterly, bimonthly, or monthly. They are published by places like university presses, academic societies, or commercial publishers. Most have a specific disciplinary focus, such as modern history, astrophysics, or French literature, and the primary audience for these publications will be students and researchers in those disciplinary areas.
Let's look at an example of a scholarly journal!
*Image from: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/journals/apq.html
This is the journal American Philosophical Quarterly (APQ). It's an academic journal published four times per year.
From the website:
\*Image from: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/journals/apq.html
As you can see from the text above, it's published by a university press (University of Illinois) and it's published on behalf of another group, North American Philosophical Publications. Having publishers publishing materials on behalf of another group, such as a learned society, is a common in academic journal publishing.
Let's talk about how to read.
We're not trying to insult your intelligence here. We know you know how to read.
But did you know that there are different ways of reading depending on what you are trying to get out of the text? And that these different ways come in handy depending on how much time you have/are willing to spend on something?
We won't make any assumptions that everyone loves to read. But think about your favorite book or comic book. You probably get lost in your favorite story, reading every word to stay in that world as long as possible, losing track of time as you sit comfortably in your favorite chair.
Unfortunately, academic or scholarly reading might not give you the same experience. Rarely do you get the warm and fuzzy feeling when curling up with a scholarly article (but you never know, maybe).
Here are some things to think about when reading for class or research:
For the Sciences:
Titles can only tell you so much about the content of the article. The Abstract acts as a preview for the entire article, including the methods and results. By reading the Abstract first, you can get a better idea of what the article is actually about, if it relates to what you are researching, and whether it is worth your time to read the rest of it.
For the Humanities:
Applies for both sciences and humanities:
Literature review: An overview of previous scholarship on the present topic. Gives both author and reader a context for where the article falls in the literature. Likely to be a separate section within the introduction or right after it.
For the sciences:
For the humanities:
Okay, now that you have pre-read some of the article and are sure it relates to your research topic, read the whole thing. It still might not be easy, but it will not be as hard as if you were reading it with no context.
Some more tips about reading: