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Scholarly Articles

This guide describes what scholarly articles are and provides advice on finding, reading, and evaluating them.
Even though many scholarly articles go through review processes, they still must be evaluated critically. And this takes practice. There are entire courses on different research methods and study designs that go into much more detail about how to know if a research study is valid. The suggestions below will help you start evaluating a scholarly article- always consult with an instructor, a mentor, a classmate, or a librarian if you need help!

 

Please be aware that context is everything. Depending on your topic, there may not be really strong scholarly research, or there might be an abundance of it. We do the best we can with the best information we can find, and keep asking questions to make the research better.

Five W's and How (Scholarly Article Evaluation)

The Five W's and How

Who

  • Who is/are the author/s? Look for credentials in article or Google
  • Who is the audience?
  • Who funded the research?
  • Who participated in the research (subjects)?

What

  • What evidence is presented? Look in Results
  • What were the researchers trying to find out? Look in Lit Review/Intro/Methods
  • What steps did they take to reduce errors and bias during the study? Should be in Methods

When

  • When was the research conducted?
  • When was the study published?
  • How current does information on this topic need to be?

Where

  • Where can you access this information? (Free? Paid? Library? Grocery store?)
  • Where was this research conducted?
  • Where can these results be applied?

Why

  • Why does this information exist?
  • Why did they conduct the study? Usually in Lit Review or Introduction
  • Why did this research get published where it did? Consider the publication, audience, etc. here

How

  • How could this research be useful to you?
  • How relevant is it to your topic? Or, what topics would this research be relevant to?
  • How was the study designed? Look for “methods”
  • How does this study reinforce or challenge other research in the same area? Usually in “Discussion” section

You can apply many of these questions to other types of sources too, like newspaper articles, social media posts, videos, etc.!

Scholarly Articles and Human Error

Even with thorough publication processes like peer review, humans will make errors. If anything seems suspicious as you're reading a scholarly article, check in with your instructor, a librarian, or even a website like Retraction Watch (linked below). They post retracted (or "recalled") articles that journals should not have been published in the first place, for various reasons.