Skip to Main Content
Research Guides@Tufts

Guide to Scholarly Articles

Types of Scholarly Articles

Scholarly articles come in many different formats each with their own function in the scholarly conversation. The following are a few of the major types of scholarly articles you are likely to encounter as you become a part of the conversation. Identifying the different types of scholarly articles and knowing their function will help you become a better researcher.

Original/Empirical Studies

  • Distinguishing characteristic: Empirical studies contain original research. They contain a thesis or interpretation supported by relevant data.
    • Note: Empirical studies can be subdivided into qualitative studies, quantitative studies, or mixed methods studies. See below for more information  
  • Usefulness for research: Empirical studies are useful because they provide current original research on a topic which may contain a hypothesis or interpretation to advance or to disprove. 

Literature Reviews

  • Distinguishing characteristic: Literature reviews survey and analyze a clearly delaminated body of scholarly literature.  
  • Usefulness for research: Literature reviews are useful as a way to quickly get up to date on a particular topic of research.

Theoretical Articles

  • Distinguishing characteristic: Theoretical articles draw on existing scholarship to improve upon or offer a new theoretical perspective on a given topic.
  • Usefulness for research: Theoretical articles are useful because they provide a theoretical framework you can apply to your own research.

Methodological Articles

  • Distinguishing characteristic: Methodological articles draw on existing scholarship to improve or offer new methodologies for exploring a given topic.
  • Usefulness for research: Methodological articles are useful because they provide a methodologies you can apply to your own research.

Case Studies

  • Distinguishing characteristic: Case studies focus on individual examples or instances of a phenomenon to illustrate a research problem or a a solution to a research problem.
  • Usefulness for research: Case studies are useful because they provide information about a research problem or data for analysis.

Book Reviews

  • Distinguishing characteristic: Book reviews provide summaries and evaluations of individual books.
  • Usefulness for research: Book reviews are useful because they provide summaries and evaluations of individual books relevant to your research.

Adapted from the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association : the official guide to APA style. (Sixth edition.). (2013). American Psychological Association.

Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed-Methods Articles

Qualitative articles ask "why" questions where as quantitative articles ask "how many/how much?" questions. These approaches are are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many articles combine the two in a mixed-methods approach. 

Comparison of Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Articles
  Qualitative Quantitative Mixed-Methods


Answer "Why?" question Answer "How many/How much?" question Combination of each
Data Observations, words, images Numerical data and statistics Combination of each
Method Interpretation Measure Combination of each
Analysis compare and contrast; make observations Statistical Analysis Combination of each


Why Does this Matter?

We can think of these different kinds of scholarly articles as different tools designed for different tasks. What research task do you need to accomplish? Do you need to get up to date on a give topic? Find a literature review. Do you need to find a hypothesis to test or to extend? Find an empirical study. Do you need to explore methodologies? Find a methodological article.