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Argument and research: Scholarly vs. popular

A guide for researching argument writing and speech assignments

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 Journals Magazines Newspapers Trade Journals
Scholarly or popular? Scholarly. Also known as academic, peer-reviewed, refereed Popular Popular 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. 
Examples example of a scholarly journal example of a magazine example of a newspaper example of a trade journal
Appearance 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
Purpose 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
Authority 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
Citation 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.
Frequency May be published monthly, quartely, or yearly Usually published weekly or monthly Usually published daily Often published weekly or monthly
Potential uses 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

 

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