Skip to Main Content

Mat-Su College: Writing

A guide for students taking Writing, particularly Writing 111, at Mat-Su College.

Evaluating the scholarly article

Identifying a scholarly article is easy enough. Once you've seen a few scholarly articles, it's easy to tell them apart from magazine and newspaper articles. Most databases even have options (that work pretty well) to filter out everything but scholarly articles.

What's harder is knowing whether a scholarly article is any good. Many times you don't even need to know. A scholarly article, any scholarly article, will be "good enough." But if you really want to impress your readers (including the professor) or get the best info it's worth taking a minute to ask more than "is this scholarly?"

Below are some questions you can ask yourself when you want to weigh the quality of a scholarly article.

In what journal was the article published?

There are a few prestigious scholarly journals that are somewhat widely known: The New England Journal of Medicine, Science, Nature, and a few others. These are the ones that get mentioned in the news from time to time. In addition to these, there are many thousands of journals you've probably never heard of: Antipode, Macroeconomic Dynamics, Canadian Issues, Library Hi Tech, etc. The library subscribes to dozens and dozens of scholarly journals for most academic disciplines.

To help academics wade through the increasing number of journals, several ranking methods have been developed. These are mostly based on different kinds of automated measurements, such as the number of times a journal's articles are cited in other articles. You can read about the different measurements here.

There are websites that publish, for free, journal rankings. One that you can easily search is Journal Guide:

  • Journal Guide provides "SNIP" scores for journals. The higher, the better. Journal Guide also indicates whether a journal is "verified" as a "reputable, recognized" journal. It can also provide other bits of information about journals. For instance, it tells us that Nature only accepts 8% of papers submitted to it. Very exclusive -- another sign of quality.

There are also sites that list journals by rank, but don't let you search for individual titles (at least not for free). Instead, you can view lists of journals by academic discipline:

  • Google Scholar publishes an "h5-index" for journals. The higher, the better. Example: Nature's score is 379, French Politics's score is 7.
  • SCIMAGO Journal Rank publishes its own ranking of journals.
  • Scopus lists SNIP, IPP, and SJR. As before, the higher the score, the better.

Who wrote the article?

One way to determine just how good a scholarly article is by looking at who wrote it.

Scholarly articles always include the name and credentials of the author. Credentials include details like the author's level of education and the place they work.

Start with where the author works. Right or wrong, an article will carry more weight if it is written by a professor at a top university such as Harvard or MIT. If you've never heard of the college or university that the author works for don't sweat it.

Now look at the author's name. Do they have a PhD or some other advanced degree? Is it a name you've heard of? It probably won't be, and that's fine, but then again it just might be one of the "big names" mentioned in your class readings.

If the author is one you've never heard of, don't be afraid of Googling them. Many academics will have a CV (fancy resume) that is easily available online. They might also have a biography page on their college's website. These will tell you how much they've written before.

Finding even more about a journal

There is another way to find more about a journal. Ulrichsweb has detailed information on periodicals such as journals and magazines. It will often say if a journal is scholarly.

Within Ulrichsweb, search the name of the journal you want to check. In the search results, look for a referee jersey icon next to the name of the journal you searched for. The referee jersey indicates that the journal is refereed (aka scholarly or peer-reviewed):

Screenshot of jersey icon mentioned in text above

Click the title of a journal to find out more about it.

What does the article say?

Finally, do read the article. Don't cite an article just because it was written by a famous scholar for a prestigious journal. Cite it because you actually used it in your paper; and use it in your paper because it contributes to the point you're trying to make.