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Academic or Non-Academic Resource?

This guide will help you tell the difference between a popular magazine and an academic, or scholarly, journal.

What's the difference between scholarly, academic and peer-reviewed?

You may be asked to use scholarly, academic, or peer-reviewed sources for your assignments. 

Scholarly or Academic Sources

The words "scholarly" and "academic" are interchangeable and refer to sources that are written by academic experts for the purpose of contributing to knowledge within a particular subject area. 

Academic sources can come in many formats, but some common ones are:

  • academic articles (also called scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles) 
  • theses or dissertations - these are similar to academic articles but can be much longer and are written by academics who are earning their Masters or PhD
  • academic books written by academics and published by an academic publisher

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Peer-reviewed articles are written by academic experts and are reviewed by several academic experts before they are published. Academic journals are almost always peer-reviewed, but books don't go through the same peer-review process. 

Want to learn more about the peer-review process? Watch the video by NC State University Libraries below.

How do I find academic sources?

Limiting to Scholarly (Peer-reviewed) articles

Most library databases have a filter that you can apply so that you only see scholarly, peer-reviewed articles. You can usually find this filter on the left-hand side of your screen. In the library's Discovery search, look for "Peer-Reviewed (Scholarly) Articles" under "Limit to." 

A screenshot from the library's Discovery search showing the Peer-Reviewed (Scholarly) articles filter. An orange arrow is pointing to the filter.

Keep in mind that this option will remove scholarly books from your search results, so is best used when you need academic articles only!

Finding Academic Books

While the library's Discovery search lets you limit your search to books & ebooks, not all of the library's books are considered academic. There is no filter you can apply to only see academic books, so you will need to take a closer look at the book to determine if it's academic. Ask yourself: 

  • Is the author an academic? There may be an about the author page, but you can also try Googling them to find out more. 
  • Is the publisher an academic press? Look for university publishers and if you're unsure, try Googling to publisher to see how they describe themselves.

If the book is written by an academic and published by an academic press, you can be confident that you're looking at an academic book. 

Comparing Sources: Academic vs Popular

  Academic Sources Non-academic Sources

Academic experts - professors, researchers, professionals in the field.

Articles very often have multiple authors. 

Articles will usually include an author's credentials or affiliations with a research institution 

Professional writers, journalists


Academics and professionals in the field

Anyone, general public


To share, analyze and discuss research and theories; to advance knowledge in a particular field

Purpose varies, but may be to inform, entertain.


Can use technical, specialized and academic language. May be difficult for non-experts to understand.

Written in a way that's easy for anyone to understand.


Sources are cited according to a particular citation style such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

Formal citations are very rare. May link to articles and quote individuals, but unlikely to cite using a formal style.

Additional characteristics
  • Articles are often long (10+ pages) 
  • Articles start with an abstract
  • Articles are organized using headings 
  • Text-heavy, may use graphs and charts to present information. Photographs are used only if they are being analyzed in the article 
  • Articles are usually less than 10 pages long 
  • Photographs are used for visual appeal