In the sciences, a journal article can be called a primary research article, scholarly article, or peer-reviewed article. Regardless of the term used to describe the article, there are always specific characteristics which allow you to identify it as scholarly information. Journal articles are different than magazine articles or newspaper articles because they are published in peer-reviewed sources.
What is peer-reviewed?
This is a process where recognized experts on a topic read and review the article before it is published in a journal. Most of the time the review process is anonymous and both the author and reviewer are not identified. The reason for this is to eliminate any personal bias in the review process. During the review process, the article will be evaluated on the accuracy of the information in the article, reliability of the research methods used, and the overall quality of the research presented in the article.
The Peer review process answers the following questions:
Is the research valid and credible?
Are research design and methodology appropriate?
Is this research significant and are the findings important?
Is the research original and new?
Does the paper properly cite the previous work done by others?
Should this work be published, improved, or rejected?
Who is an expert?
Experts are recognized authorities on a topic. You can identify someone’s authority by their education, credentials, and affiliation.
Look for academic degrees such as PhD. For scholarly articles, the educational background and degrees of the author should be easy to find.
Look at where the author is employed. If it is a university this is a good sign. Generally, experts will be employed (affiliated) with some organization such as a university, corporation, or government.
The author and their degrees are visible.
The author's affiliation and contact information will be visible
What does a Primary Research Article look like?
All primary research articles will share many of the same characteristics
There will usually be a paragraph labeled abstract at the beginning of the article. This abstract will be a brief summary of the article and is intended to help the reader determine if the article is on the topic of interest. You can also see that the authors and their affiliations are clearly shown.
There will be citations throughout the article (marked in red) and especially a section often called literature review, that reviews all the previous published articles on this topic
You will see a section labeled methods where the research process is discussed.
Data analysis and mathematics will be used in a research-based article.
An extensive bibliography of several pages citing related articles will follow the article
These characteristics can be found in most peer-reviewed articles published. If you are having trouble finding these attributes in your articles, ask a librarian or your instructor.