What is a scholarly source? (A comprehensive guide)

In this blog post, we answer the following questions: What is a scholarly source and how can I tell a source is scholarly?

We also give great insights on how to write a scientific paper, so keep reading. 

What is a scholarly source?

A scholarly source is considered an article or a book that was written by a person who is an expert in their field.

The author of a scholarly source is a qualified person and recognized officially as an expert, it can’t just be anyone.

For example, the authors can be experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians. 

We use a scholarly source to give credibility to our research work, to support it with plausible arguments that have been researched and proved already.

How can I tell if a source is scholarly?

There are a few characteristics to look out for to determine if an article is scholarly or not.

I must mention that it is important for the source to meet all the conditions below, not just one.

  • Authors – It is important to mention both the name and credentials of the author (s).
  • Publishers – It is important to mention who published this source. For example, a publisher may be an academic institution, scholarly, or professional organization.
  • Audience – Another vital detail is to mention the intended audience of this source. Furthermore, the information should be a specific one, and not addressed to a more general audience.
  • Content – Pay close attention to the content of the article. As you read, you should find out the purpose of the study; note if graphs and tables containing study data are included; the sources of the information provided must be cited, a comprehensive bibliography must be included and written in a correct format (usually in the APA format).
  • Timeliness – A simple but extremely important detail. The date of publication of the article/journal must be mentioned.

What is a Non-Scholarly Source?

Among the most popular non-scholarly sources are:

  • Any information from a newspaper or a blog.
  • Sources that are advocacy or opinion-based.
  • Sources that lack references to other sources.
  • Data and statistical publications and compilations.
  • Reviews of books, movies, plays, or gallery and art shows, that are not essay-length and that do not include a bibliographic context.

Don’t get me wrong, non-scholarly sources are not unimportant.

On the contrary, to find out what’s going on in the world, to better understand certain points of view and to be up to date with the latest trends, we absolutely need non-scholarly sources such as newspapers, blogs or critical reviews.

The difference is that publishing a scholarly source can take some time, considering that you have to follow some well-established rules.

The publishing process usually involves years of research and a review by peers which can take some time.

Some features of non-scholarly sources:

  • In most cases, they are opinion based, that is, subjective.
  • The language used is simple, as they are written for a general audience and broad readership.
  • There is no obligation for articles to be reviewed by a peer before being published.
  • There is no obligation to link references to other sources.
  • Some popular examples are the non-scholarly sources: book reviews or editorials, news sources, data and statistical publications.

What is a scholarly source structure?

Below we will present a scholarly source structure. These are some key points that a scientific source must contain.

Whether you want to write your own scholarly source or know how to differentiate one, keep reading.

  • Data presentation

Four main types of data can be presented in tables, graphs and text:

1. Simple summaries, such as sums, percentages, or mean values ​​(usually averages, but sometimes medians or averages).

2. Differences between individuals, such as standard deviation, reference range, quartile.

3. Simple sum comparisons between groups or subjects or over time.

4. Measurements of the accuracy of an assessment, such as standard error or confidence interval. If the valuation is a percentage, communicate the actual values.

Other less common data include assessments of the association between variables, such as correlations and regression coefficients.

Always state in the table or text what is measured and in what units.

Do not use abbreviations unless they are unambiguous.

Thus, the “%” symbol does not cause problems, but the “±” symbol does – it is used for Standard Deviation, Standard Error, Confidence Interval, Reference Interval and other confidence aspects. 

  • Summary
  • The aim of the study (eg to evaluate the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment in acute cough and to measure side effects for such treatment).
  • The project (e.g. systematic quantitative review for randomized controlled trials).
  • Provide a description of the study topic (including sample size, if applicable).
  • Report how to measure the main results.
  • Communicate the main result and other key results with reliable intervals.
  • Final conclusions.
  • Description of the statistical method used

This chapter requires its own paragraph to explain what has been done, in sufficient detail for anyone interested in repeating the study.

Standardized techniques require no explanation.

Where there are unusual implications or a variety of methods, you should be very clear about what has been done, with appropriate references.

Include the power at which the calculation led when the study was planned and on which the sample size is supported.

Tests are sometimes invalid if certain assumptions are false. If in doubt, mention the checks followed in the methods section.

A detailed description of search results is usually unnecessary.

If you are unsure, ask for help!

  • Description of the subjects
  • Describe the subjects in the group. Include a demographic description (age, gender) and clinical details of patients at the beginning of the study.
  • For effective measurements, show typical values and variation between patients: mean with standard deviation, median with quartiles. Include all information, including the number of subjects in the study, in total and in the group. Present the real numbers used to calculate the percentages. You do not need to submit each category. If 65% of the subjects are men, it seems obvious that the remaining 35% are women.
  • Report on the main result

The main result should be specified in the study protocol. It is the one for which the power calculation is performed.

You must provide an estimate along with the confidence interval.

For continuous measurement, the estimate will usually be the difference between two averages, rarely a single average.

When comparing two proportions, the main choice is made between odds ratio, risk ratio and variation in proportions.

If you don’t know which one to choose, you can use a manual like Altman or Sackett.

  • Reporting of secondary results

Description of important measurements for each group. You may want to estimate how these measurements vary between groups or over time.

Follow the same approach as for the main result.

To avoid loading the reader with multiple numbers, you may prefer to provide the standard error instead of the confidence interval for a single measurement.

  • Comparison of several groups

Where we work with a large number of groups, the use of a general p-value can show if the expected phenomenon occurs.

 An appropriate significance test (eg Chi-square or simple ANOVA = single-varied analysis or analysis of variance according to a single criterion, equivalent to the t-test for independent samples) can help to determine a difference between groups. 

If it exists, it is appropriate to choose a reference group (often the largest or the one with standard treatment) and compare any other group with the reference group using confidence intervals.

If the difference does not exist, this raises the suspicion that any difference observed is due to chance.

Avoid testing every possible comparison. Ask yourself what are the means to achieve the goal of the main research.

  • Measurements at different times

Where measurements are repeated, you can provide summaries each time. Graphs are useful for showing changes over time.

The results of the abstracts give more power and less probability of recording false-positive results.

  • Comments on the results
  • Insignificant discoveries

The first question is whether a clinically important difference remains possible.

To answer you must look for the limits of the confidence interval. Would these differences be clinically important?

Ask yourself and your colleagues if these results would change your clinical decision in any way.

If the answer is “no”, no further research is needed. 

The study showed that no valuable conclusions are likely to be drawn.

If the answer is “yes” further research will be needed, which will either rule out the “null effect” or rule out any clinically important differences.

  • Significant discoveries

There is valuable evidence that the effect is real, but is it clinically important?

Look at the confidence interval, particularly the lower limit.

This is the “worst result” for the real effect. Decide if such a small difference matters. This is a clinical question, not a statistical one.


In this blog post, we answered the following questions: What is a scholarly source and how can I tell a source is scholarly? 

We also gave you great insights on how to write a scientific paper, how to identify a non-scholarly source and its importance.

Now you know what the importance of scholarly sources are and the details you should pay attention to. 

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

FAQ about what is a scholarly source

What qualifies as a scholarly source?

A scholarly source is an article that was written by a person who is an expert in their field. 

Experts in their field scientists, faculty, and historians.

What is a scholarly source example?

A scholarly source example can be an academic journal article, any official publication or even a book.

There are several criteria that they must meet in order to be considered a scholarly source, however. 

What is considered a scholarly website?

A scholarly website is considered to be a place that has a database of scholarly sources.

For example JSTOR or even Google Scholar.

How do you identify a scholarly source?

To identify a scholarly source you should check the author’s credentials. 

As you read, you should find out the purpose of the study; note if graphs and tables containing study data are included; the sources of the information provided must be cited, a comprehensive bibliography must be included and written in a correct format (usually in the APA format).

Why is it important to use scholarly sources?

It is important to use scholarly sources since they will give your paper credibility and quality. 

Use of scholarly sources is an expected attribute of academic course work.

Is Psychology Today a scholarly source?

Psychology Today is not a scholarly source as it is not peer-reviewed.


Apastyle.apa.org – Style and Grammar Guidelines