Scholarly journals are journals which are well respected for the information and research they provide on a particular subject. They are written by experts in a particular field or discipline and their purpose is to advance the ongoing body of work within their discipline. These articles might present original research data and findings, or take a position on a key question within the field. They can be difficult to read, because their intended audience is other experts and academics, but they are the capstone when it comes to authoritative information.
Scholarly journals are oftentimes peer reviewed or refereed. A peer-reviewed or refereed article has gone through a process where other scholars in the author’s field or discipline critically assess a draft of the article. The actual evaluations are similar to editing notes, where the author receives detailed and constructive feedback from the peer experts. However, these reviews are not made available publicly. For an example peer review of a fictitious article, see the Sample Peer-Review of a Fictitious Manuscript link below.
Please keep in mind that not all scholarly journals go through the peer-review process. However, it is safe to assume that a peer-reviewed journal is also scholarly. In short, “scholarly” means the article was written by an expert for an audience of other experts, researchers or students. “Peer-reviewed” takes it one step further and means the article was reviewed and critiqued by the author’s peers who are experts in the same subject area. The vast majority of scholarly articles are peer reviewed.
However, because there are many different types of peer-review, be sure to evaluate the resource itself to determine if it is suitable for your research needs. For example, law reviews may indicate that they are peer-reviewed, but their "peers" are other students. Please see the Law Reviews FAQ below for more explanation.
If you need help determining whether a scholarly journal is peer reviewed or refereed we recommend using the Ulrichsweb database. Ulrichsweb is the authoritative source of bibliographic and publisher information on more than 300,000 periodicals of all types, including academic and scholarly journals. Find out more about how to use and access Ulrichsweb through NCU Library by watching the Ulrichsweb Quick Tutorial Video (link below).
For additional instruction on scholarly vs. peer reviewed journals, please see the Library's Scholarly vs. Peer-Reviewed Journals Quick Tutorial Video (link below).
For scholarly information on the peer review process, see the following resources:
Chenail, R. (2008). Peer review. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp. 605-606). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412963909.n313
Constantine, N. (2008). Peer review process. In S. Boslaugh (Ed.), Encyclopedia of epidemiology (Vol. 2, pp. 795-796). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412953948.n343
Mark, M. & Chua, P. (2005). Peer review. In S. Mathison (Ed.), Encyclopedia of evaluation (pp. 299-299). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412950558.n404
Created by the Vanderbilt University's Peabody Library, the short video below will explain the differences between a scholarly and a popular resource.