What is a Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Article?

You may have heard the terms "scholarly", "peer-reviewed", or "academic" used when discussing articles and books. Maybe you wondered what the difference is. In truth, there is very little difference. For the purposes of this guide, we'll use only the term "peer-reviewed".


Scholarly/Academic: Written by academics and experts. They are aimed at an audience who are academics, experts, or students. Scholarly articles are not necessarily peer-reviewed, but peer-reviewed articles are always scholarly.

Peer-Reviewed: An article that was written by academics and experts, and then reviewed by other academics and experts to assure it's accuracy and quality.

Peer-Reviewed vs. Trade vs. Popular

Peer-Reviewed articles and books are the most trusted types of published research because of the verification process they go through before being published. But not all published research goes through this process. You may also come across articles from trade or popular journals.

A Peer-Reviewed Article:

  • Is written by experts or academics, for other experts and academics
  • Is written by the person who performed the research
  • Is usually very long (10-30 pages)
  • Often uses complex language, field-specific terminology, and charts or graphs
  • Includes an abstract and a lengthy works-cited sections, as well as in-line citations
  • Has been through a lengthy blind-review process by other experts in the field
  • Is printed in black-and-white with a simple layout
  • Examples: Nature, Lancet, English Journal, Education and Urban Society

A Trade Article:

  • Is written by people working in the field, but also academics
  • Is written for people working in the field
  • Is usually shorter than a peer-reviewed paper, but still long (3-10 pages)
  • Contains some references, but usually very few
  • Rarely includes an abstract
  • Examples: School Library Journal, Booklist, Billboard, Campaign

A Popular Article:

  • May be written by experts or journalists with no experience in the field
  • Summarizes someone else's research
  • Is written for people with no experience in the field, using simple language
  • Is usually very short (1-3 pages)
  • Contains little or no references
  • Often includes color photos or a flashy layout
  • Examples: People, Sports Illustrated, Time, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report

Finding Peer-Reviewed Sources

It's easy to find peer-reviewed articles when searching online databases through the library. Some databases include articles that are not peer-reviewed, but they all include tools to limit your search results.


  • On the search results page: In the left-hand column, scroll down to "Content Type" and click the box next to "Peer Reviewed"
  • In advanced search: Bellow the search term boxes, under "Search Tools" click the box next to "Only return peer-reviewed articles"


Using Subject Databases

  • Each database may look slightly different, but most have a similar format.
  • In the left-hand column of your search results, look for a checkbox labeled something like "Scholarly", "Peer-Reviewed", or "Journals".








For more detailed information on searching library databases see our Using the Library guide.