Locating and Evaluating Scholarly Articles

Scholarly Articles Defined

Scholarly articles are written by researchers, professors, or students and are published in research or academic journals. Scholarly articles (also known as peer-reviewed or refereed articles) have the highest level of credibility because they have been put through a rigorous system of review as other experts in the author's field of research check the article for accuracy. Because scholarly articles represent high quality research and rigorous review, be sure to include them in your research. You will find a more extensive definition of refereed articles at What Is a Refereed/Peer-Reviewed Article.

Examples of scholarly journals include Communication Education, American Journal of Psychology, and Modern Fiction Studies.


Using Library Research Databases to Locate Scholarly Articles

Why the databases?

The UMUC Library provides access to over 120 research databases containing tens of thousands of full-text scholarly and professional articles, as well as reports, statistics, case studies, book chapters and some complete books in a wide range of subject areas. Using library research databases will give you higher quality, more focused results than you will find by only going to a Web search engine such as Google and Yahoo.

How do I select which databases to use?

In order to determine which database(s) to search decide from what perspective (e.g., business, political, cultural, social, historical, psychological, anthropological, educational, etc.) you want to approach your topic. It is better to examine your topic from more than one perspective in order to gain a well-rounded understanding of it. Then, look for a database that contains resources on your topic. Each database has a description of its coverage: subject areas, types of resources, and date range.

  • Search by Subject provides research guides for a wealth of subject areas. Each guide includes relevant library research databases, books, Web sites, and in some cases blogs, podcasts, video, etc. The subject guides also link to various tutorials and other helpful information.
  • Research Resources by Title is where to go if you already know the name of the database you want to use.

How do I tell if an article is scholarly?

Different research databases have different ways of showing whether an article is scholarly.

Check the search options.
Some databases allow you to limit your search to scholarly and/or peer-reviewed:

 Limiting to peer-reviewed

Check the results.
Some databases divide search results into different categories, with peer-reviewed being one:

 Peer reviewed as a category

Still not sure? Check Ulrichsweb.
If you find a journal article and you are not sure what type of publication it is from, you can check in Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory (under "U" in the Research Databases: A to Z list). Ulrichsweb does not contain articles. Instead, it lists information about journals. Enter the exact title of a journal in the search box, then select "Title (Exact)" in the drop down menu and click the Submit button. In the results list, if a referee's-shirt icon appears next to the journal title, then it is refereed and scholarly. You can double-check by opening the record and look for the word Yes next to the heading Refereed.

 A scholarly, peer-reviewed journal

Identify and Locate Scholarly Journals offers more help understanding the differences between scholarly, popular, and trade journals.


Article Citations

An article citation includes important information about that particular article (e.g., article title, author(s), journal title, volume and issue, date of publication and the number of pages). You will need this information when you cite the article in your research paper.

Click below to watch a short video, "How to Read a Database Citation."

How to Read a Database CitationHow to Read a Database Citation


Evaluating an Article Based on Its Citation

You can begin evaluating an article--judging whether it will be useful in your research--by examining the article citation in the database.

In the database, when you are looking at the list of articles your search has retrieved, click on an article title to open a detailed record for that article. The detailed record will include information by which you can evaluate the article:

  • Author. Are the author's affiliation and credentials available? If so, do they specify that the author is from a university or other research organization? (Not all databases include this information.)
  • Publication Date. What is the article's publication date? For many subjects, such as information technology or medicine, you need current information. The publication date allows you to judge the if the article is up-to-date.
  • Length. What is the length of the article? If it is just two or three pages, it is less likely to provide in-depth coverage of your research topic.
  • Abstract. Is there an abstract that provides a synopsis of the article?
  • Peer-review. Is the article peer-reviewed?

Here is an example from the Communication and Mass Media Complete database. This article was found using the search: "conflict management" AND communicat*

 Article record

You will notice that the author is from an educational institution; the article was published in August 2009; it has 19 cited references; and the article is 11 pages long. In addition, even though this article was published in August 2009, it has already served as a source for another article, as designated by "Times Cited in this Database."

To ensure that the journal is peer-reviewed, you can look it up in Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory. The result looks like this:



Locating Full Text

When full text is immediately available

Some of the articles you find in library databases are available in full text and can be viewed online in HTML format or in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. The link to the full text will be included with the article citation:

 Link to full text

The PDF format provides a copy of the full article as it appears in a print journal. Because it is an exact replication, you know that no text has been altered in the conversion process. The HTML version had to be converted from the original; therefore, it may contain errors in the text. HTML format may not have graphs or images, but it generally displays more quickly in a Web browser. To view an article, click on either the PDF or HTML link.

When full text is not immediately available

Check Find It.
In cases where the full text is not immediately available, you will see the Find It button at the bottom of the article citation:

Find it button

After clicking on Find It, you will be taken to an intermediary screen that will direct you to the full text if it is available in another database or from a publisher's Web site:

Full text available in another database 

Still not available? Use DocumentExpress.
If the full text is not available you will see "Not available online." However, you can still obtain the full text of the article by clicking on the "Request it from DocumentExpress" link: 

 Full text not available online


You then log on using your last name and barcode number.

The library will then locate the full text and email it to you for free. It can take two to fourteen days to fill these requests, so you cannot depend on DocumentExpress if your paper is due very soon.

Do not limit your search to "full text only." If you do that, you may miss a citation to an article that is important for your research, and you would be able to use Find It to obtain the full text from another database or from DocumentExpress.

Click below to watch the short videos "Finding Full-Text Articles with Find It" and "Using Document Express for Articles" 

Finding Full-Text Articles with Find ItFinding Full-Text Articles with Find It
Using Document Express for ArticlesUsing DocumentExpress for Articles


Evaluating a Full-Text Article

Once you obtain the actual text of the article, you will need to determine if the article is worth using in your research. As you read the article, ask yourself:

  • Audience. Who is the intended audience? Is it too specialized or too general?
  • Objectivity. Is the article objective, or is it biased? Is the article based on fact or opinion?
  • Scope. What is the scope of the coverage? Is the article a summary of published works or in-depth reporting of original research? Does it provide any new information? Is the article based on primary or secondary sources?
  • Clarity. Is the article clear? Is it easy to follow and provide conclusions?
  • References. Does the article contain cited references? This demonstrates that the author's conclusions are based on the work of other experts.
  • Supporting documentation. Are there charts, graphs, or other supporting documentation?