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Research Tips & Peer Reviewed Articles: Finding Research Articles

Brainy Stuff

What is the difference between Popular vs. Professional (or Scholarly) Literature?

Some of your professors will ask you to find research articles in "scholarly" or "professional" journals. These are different than typical articles in Time or Newsweek. How do you know if you have a research article?

Popular literature looks like this:

  • Examples: TimePeopleBusiness Week
  • Written for a general audience: language is plain & simple
  • Authors are not always listed
  • Lots of ads
  • Available on the web

Scholarly literature looks like this:

  • Example: Journal of Bacteriology
  • Written for scholars & professionals in a field of study: lots of technical terms
  • Authors always clearly listed (may be a team of authors)
  • Common format for reporting a research project:
    • Abstract (summary paragraph)
    • Statement of problem
    • Description of research methods
    • Description of data
    • Analysis of data (including charts & graphs)
    • Conclusions
    • List of cited references
  • Alternate format: Review article
    • Summarizes the results of several research articles
  • Very few available for free on the web (use the online indexes)

For another comparison of popular and scholarly literature, look at this video from the Carnegie Vincent Library.

"Scholarly and Popular Sources"  (4:11)

How to Search for Research Articles

1. Choose databases that are likely to cover research journals.  Academic Search Premier is a good one to start with for almost any topic.  

2. Choose a database that covers the broad subject area that your topic fits in.  Use the LibGuide Articles (Databases A to Z) to see what the Library can give you access to.

Here are a few examples that illustrate tips 1 and 2:

Business Source Premier is a good place to look for business and economics research, but Regional Business News is not

Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition is a good place to find medical research, but Health Source: Consumer Edition is not

Pro Quest Arts & Humanities Full Text has a very broad scope. It is a good source for scholarly writing in art, drama, literature, and many other related fields.

3. After you do a search, look around the screen for a list of ways to limit the results.  Often this will be over in the left-hand column. In most of the EBSCO databases, you'll see this:

To limit your search results to research articles, click the box next to Academic Journals


What Are "Research" Articles?

These are articles in which the author(s) report the results of research they have conducted. They usually appear in "research" journals.  However, keep your eyes open, because research journals also print editorials, letters, and news items that you will not be able to count as research articles in your list of sources.

Other Types of Articles

Some writing assignments require finding a variety of article types from journals, magazines and trade publications.  This guide to Finding Articles from Michigan State University offers a quick chart to help with this.

How Do I Cite a Research Article?

See the LibGuide about Citation Styles.