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Theory and Practice of Teaching English Language Learners

About "Scholarly," "Peer-Reviewed," and "Empirical" Sources


Scholarly sources are in-depth, research-based articles, books, and book chapters, written by scholars and experts and intended for other researchers, experts, and students.The following characteristics can identify a source as scholarly:

    The author of the source is a scholar or expert in the field discussed, not just a journalist or "staff writer."

    The source provides substantial citations, such as footnotes or a bibliography.

    The source discusses a narrowly defined topic and may review existing literature concerning the topic, present new research based on experiments or archival work, or interpret a well-researched idea in a new way.

    The article uses technical language specific to the discipline, often requiring the reader to have scholarly background in the area.  The source is intended for scholars, researchers, and students, rather than the general public.

    The source is reviewed and edited by other experts in the discipline.


Because scholarly sources are well-researched, written by experts, and discuss topics in great depth and detail, they have credibility and authority.  Using scholarly sources in your own research gives your work credibility and authority, as well.  Non-scholarly materials can also be useful and appropriate for some academic purposes, but generally scholarly sources are expected in academic research.


Peer review is a process through which some scholarly articles and book chapters are critically evaluated by experts with in-depth knowledge of the research area before publication in order to ensure the information is valid, credible, well-written, and of high quality.

Many databases will tell you if an article has been peer-reviewed.  You may even be able to use limits or filters in the database to narrow your search results. A journal's website will often describe whether or not they use peer review. If you're still not sure if an article has been peer-reviewed, search the name of the journal in which the article was published in Ulrichsweb Periodicals Directory.  The symbol of a referee's jersey next to the journal name indicates the journal uses peer review.  (Refereed is a synonym for peer reviewed.)  Note, though, that not all content in peer-reviewed journals is actually peer-reviewed; book or film reviews, letters to the editors, opinion columns, and articles without references are typically not peer-reviewed.


Empirical sources are those that report on original experiments or observations. To identify a source as empirical, look for descriptions of the methodology of study. The source generally will include three notable sections: a section labeled "methods," "methodology," or "research design" that details how the study was designed and conducted; a section labeled "results" or "findings" that describes what the researchers learned in the study; and a section labeled "discussion" or "conclusion" that interprets the data gathered and describes the importance and impact of the study's findings.

Searching for Sources: Selected Databases

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of using another person's words or ideas without giving him/her proper credit.  It is a serious academic offense. 

The Academic Integrity page defines plagiarism in more detail and provides information about Muhlenberg's Academic Integrity Code.

Indiana University's plagiarism tutorial also offers helpful information on understanding and recognizing plagiarism, including an overview with basics and recommendations and examples.