First, let’s look at some vocabulary. Peer reviewed means one or more authorities in the field have reviewed the work for accuracy and integrity. Scholarly means it is created and presented in an academic way. Fortunately, most scholarly work is also peer-reviewed. You won’t have to second guess that part.
Where students sometimes get confused is that peer-reviewed does not always mean scholarly. Encyclopedias, like Britannica, are peer-reviewed, so you can be sure they are accurate, but they are not scholarly. As a general rule, your professors will expect you to only use scholarly sources.
In the introduction three types of scholarly sources were mentioned, databases, collections, and monographs. They are not the only things available but are the most common. Understanding the information here will help you in determining where something new fits.
Your library maintains a group of databases for your use. On the Ranger College Library Homepage they can be accessed by clicking the A-Z Database link at the top. The search that pops up is designed to search for databases, not the contents of the databases. It is sort of like finding something in a table of contents. Only words in the database name or description will be found, so this is only helpful if you already know what you are looking for. In the beginning, at least, you won’t.
What you do know, however, are the topics you are looking for. Try a keyword, such as history or fitness. Any database with that word in the description will pop up, narrowing down your search options.
What if nothing is found? That just means the keyword you tried was not included in any description. It does not mean that there is no information. Scroll through the list. You will probably find a dozen that seem to fit your needs. Open any and all that might be helpful and conduct your searches in them. Inside a database is where you are going to find the information you need for your work.
There are many databases in the public domain. These are usually called collections. As an example, Lacus Curtius, contains everything you ever wanted to know about ancient Rome, including all those musty Latin texts you don’t want to read but contain invaluable information. Collections like these are found through careful searches on the internet.
So, how can you tell if an internet site is scholarly?
If you read the guide on Understanding a URL, you noticed that even though some types of websites are more likely to be scholarly than others, they all still require individual evaluation. What are you looking for that will tell you a site is scholarly?
The best options are .edu, and .gov pages. Schools, governments, museums, scholarly foundations are all legitimate organizations that ensure the work published on their sites has been written by a person with experience in the subject who researched it properly.
As has been mentioned before, just because a site has a ‘good’ extension does not mean it is good to use in a college setting. You still have to evaluate the content. Ben’s Guide to the US Government is not going to have the depth of knowledge you need at this level.
You can control what you find to a certain extent by applying limiting keywords in your searches. Instead of George Washington, try George Washington scholarly articles or George Washington primary sources.
As more documents from collections are digitized and published online, more sites become available that offer scholarly resources. It is especially becoming normal to find these works in Creative Commons and Open Access sites. Some are better than others, but always look at the source – what are the author’s credentials? What is the publisher? What academic credentials does it have, such as being published by a university press? Are the journals scholarly? What do other internet sites say about the site?