Distinguishing between popular and scholarly sources
Note: The following info focuses a lot on the APPEARANCE of these publications. This is generally referring to the print format of the following types of publications. All of the publications discussed here are available in electronic format, and you will have fewer visual clues to guide you. The other aspects of each type of publication described below will help you determine which is which when you find them on the world wide web or in databases.
Not sure if a source is scholarly or popular? Always ask a librarian or your instructor when you are uncertain.
Differences between scholarly vs. popular sources
Scholarly or popular?
Scholarly. Also known as academic, peer-reviewed, refereed
In-between -- has elements of both. Also known as "industry" magazines
At a glance
These journal articles often feature the results of scientific or academic research. They are written for scholars and provide in-depth analysis of a specific area of study.
Good for summarizing information on a topic for the general public. They often provide some background, briefly summarize research findings, and provide some lay analysis of a topic, often with the intent to show the public how it applies to their lives.
Good for finding recent information on a topic (what has happened in the last 24 hours, the last week or last month) as well as finding out how events of the past were reported by using historical newspapers (for example, how the AIDS crisis was first reported in the 1980s).
Intended to keep professionals (librarians, police officers, etc.) up-to-date on trends in their line of work. Articles often summarize and analyze research, legislation, news events, in context of how these things affect the profession's practice or business.
Often have a sober, serious look. May contain graphs and charts, but few glossy pages or photographs. Use scholarly language with vocabulary specific to their field.
Generally glossy with attractive color photographs and other images
Generally printed on newsprint paper, often with black print and grey scale images
Can have glossy eye-catching appearance, but can also be in newsletter format with few or no colors
Written for researchers, scholars and professionals interested in the same field of study.
Written for the general public,with the intent to inform, but also to entertain
Written for the general public. Articles offer brief coverage of events as they happen/change.
Written for practicing professionals
Written by experts in the field, often reporting the results and conclusions of research they conducted. There is frequently more than one author.
Written by magazine staff or freelance writers
Often written by a staff writer or a freelance journalist
Often written by a staff writer, though most trade publications also accept articles from professionals in the field
Contains footnotes/lengthy citations at the end of the work, citing the works of others used by the author.
Citations are often absent or if present, informally referenced in the body of the text
Citations are often lacking, or informally referenced or linked in the body of the text
Citations are sometimes present at the end of an article, or footnotes are provided within the text.
May be published monthly, quartely, or yearly
Usually published weekly or monthly
Usually published daily
Often published weekly or monthly
Statistical information; research findings to 'prove' or 'disprove' a notion; cause and effect analysis; deep understanding of a narrow aspect of your topic
Gain a basic understanding of a current topic, as it is happening; understand how it applies to people directly; gain an understanding of the popular perception of a topic.
Get extended information about a local issue; find primary source documentation of historical events as they happened through the use of newspaper archives
Understand how an issue affects people in their professional practices, or how a profession uses information to guide its practice
Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content, with credit to TCC Library. When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Tacoma Community College Library and shared with a CC BY SA 4.0 license.
Tacoma Community College Library - Building 7, 6501 South 19th Street, Tacoma, WA 98466 - P. 253.566.5087