ENGL 127 Research Writing: Social Sciences (Schaefer)

This research guide is for students in Amanda Schaefer's English 127: Focus on Family & Home

What is Scholarly Literature?

Features of Scholarly Literature

  • Written by scholars and subject experts
  • Written for other scholars, professionals. and policy makers. Also read by student researchers
  • It reflects a specific discipline or interdisciplinary field, such as sociology, history, gender studies, etc.
  • There are different kinds of scholarly articles.
    • Literature reviews, for example, give an overview of the body of research on a specific topic.
    • Original research studies, on the other hand, present original research findings in a field.
    • Theoretical articles offer original analysis.
  • Research studies aim to be transparent. They outline the purpose of the study, the methodology, findings, and conclusions. One of the goals of a research study is that it be reproduceable so that its conclusions may be verified.
  • Scholarship is usually, though not always, lengthy, and it engages with issues at a more substantial level than magazine articles.
  • Scholarship in the social sciences will include an extensive list of References at the end of the work, and comprehensive in-text citations throughout for all claims made in the body of the article.
  • Scholarship is published in scholarly journals and in books generally from university presses.
  • The purpose of a body of scholarship on a subject is to advance our knowledge and understanding in that field.
What can you ask to determine if a source is scholarly?

When you are determining whether or not the article you found is a peer-reviewed article, you should consider the following.

(Click on image to enlarge) 

This is an image showing parts of a scholarly journal highlighted, such as the authors and their credentials, the serious tone and in-depth coverage of the topic and various sections like an abstract, data, methods, discussions, and references

Also consider...
  • Is the journal in which you found the article published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society, professional association, or university academic department? Does it describe itself as a peer-reviewed publication? (To know that, check the journal's website). 
  • Did you find a citation for it in one of the  databases that includes scholarly publications? (Academic Search Complete, PsycINFO, etc.)?  Read the database description to see if it includes scholarly publications.
  • In the database, did you limit your search to scholarly or peer-reviewed publications? (See video tutorial below for a demonstration.)
  • Is the topic of the article narrowly focused and explored in depth?
  • Is the article based on either original research or authorities in the field (as opposed to personal opinion)?
  • Is the article written for readers with some prior knowledge of the subject?
  • If your field is social or natural science, is the article divided into sections with headings such as those listed below?
    • Introduction
    • Theory or Background
    • Methods
    • Discussion
    • Literature review
    • Subjects
    • Results
    • Conclusion


What is the peer review process?

In academic publishing, the goal of peer review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal. Before an article is deemed appropriate to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, it must undergo the following process:

  • The author of the article must submit it to the journal editor who forwards the article to experts in the field. Because the reviewers specialize in the same scholarly area as the author, they are considered the author’s peers (hence “peer review”).
  • These impartial reviewers are charged with carefully evaluating the quality of the submitted manuscript.
  • The peer reviewers check the manuscript for accuracy and assess the validity of the research methodology and procedures.
  • If appropriate, they suggest revisions. If they find the article lacking in scholarly validity and rigor, they reject it.

Because a peer-reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer-reviewed articles that are accepted for publication exemplify the best research practices in a field.

Attribution: Much of the information about the the peer-review process was used with permission from the awesome librarians at the Lloyd Sealy Library at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Source: "Peer Review in 3 Minutes" by libncsu, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn how the peer review process works and why it is so rigorous.

Identifying common elements in a journal article

Look through the images and notes below to learn more about the various parts common to a scholarly article

The Citation information: Authors, Article title, Journal information and Abstract
  • As shown in the image below, much of the citation information about the article appears on the first page. Here we see the title of journal, page numbers, and the publication date.
  • Multiple authors are common in search and they usually include academic affiliations that are listed just near the authors' names, as shown in this image, or as a footnote at the bottom of the page. 
  • Also on the first page, you can often see the abstract to the article, which is common.

The Abstract:

Read the abstract to determine if an article will be relevant, helpful, and comprehensible.

The abstract is more than a summary. It maps out the article with a brief overview of each section. The abstract may present the article's claim, purpose, methodology, and conclusions. 

In-Text Citations
  • As show in the image of the article text below, you can see that in-text citations are common. This article also shows the contact information for the main author. 

(click on image to enlarge)

The Methodology:

If the article is a research study, the article will include the methodology and findings. 

The methodology lays out how the study was done. Check to see if the study was conducted with many or few subjects, over a long or short period of time, if subjects represent a broad or narrow cross-section of stakeholders, and if controls make results reliable.

The Results:

The results section presents the raw data gathered in the study. Seeing the data helps one determine if the conclusions are supported by the data.

Data set up for comparison - Tables and Charts:

The Discussion & Conclusion:

The discussion and conclusion sections are where the authors interpret their data and draw conclusions about what they did and didn't learn, as well as next steps for research. Read these sections closely for insights and quotes you might cite and include in your essay.  

The References:

The references section of scholarly articles (and books) document the works upon, and sometimes against, which the current study was conducted. 

Use the references section as a research tool and "mine it" for relevant works you might look for.

Click on images to enlarge



Open the full articles linked below for a hands-on exploration of differences between popular and scholarly texts.

Video: How Library Stuff Works: Scholarly vs Popular Sources

Source: "How Library Stuff Works: Scholarly vs. Popular Sources" by McMaster Libraries, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn about the differences between scholarly and popular sources and how to identify them when researching your topic.