Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

Did your instructor tell you that you must use scholarly articles in your research project? Not sure what that means? This page breaks down the differences between the different types of periodicals so that you can easily determine if an article is scholarly or popular. If you still are unsure about the difference, try viewing the tutorials on our Tutorials page.

You may also want to try looking at these helpful charts from Duke and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

First, what is a periodical and how do I know if what I found is an article?

A periodical is a publication that is published in regular intervals for an indefinite period of time. Magazines, journals, and newspapers are all examples of periodicals. Articles are stand-alone sections of a larger work. This means that you would find an articles within an issue of a periodical.

In order to determine if an article or periodical is popular or scholarly, you can evaluate it by asking these eight questions:

  1. Who is the intended audience?
  2. Who are the authors?
  3. Are sources cited in a bibliography?
  4. What is the publication's purpose?
  5. What is the content?
  6. What kind of language is used?
  7. Who is the publisher?
  8. Is the source of information reliable?

Popular Magazines

You are probably very familiar with popular magazines and just not know it! Examples of popular magazines include periodicals like National Geographic, People, Cosmo, and Time. Here's how you would answer the eight questions listed above if you were looking at a popular magazine:

  1. The intended audience is the general public.
  2. The authors are staff writers, and many articles are unsigned.
  3. There are almost never any sources cited in a bibliography
  4. The publication's purpose is to disseminate (or spread) general information and news in order to entertain the reader.
  5. The content includes general interest stories and news.
  6. The language requires no expertise (or expert knowledge of a subject).
  7. The publisher is a commercial organization (meaning their goal is to make a profit).
  8. The source is reliable most of the time but not always.

Scholarly Journals

A scholarly journal is a peer-reviewed periodical in which scholarship, or research, relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Examples of scholarly journals include the Journal of Clinical Nursing, the Harvard Law Review, and Criminal Justice Ethics. Here's how you'd answer those same eight questions if you were looking at a scholarly journal:

  1. The intended audience is composed of researchers and experts.
  2. The authors are researchers and experts.
  3. There are always sources cited in a bibliography.
  4. The publication's purpose is to disseminate (or spread) research findings.
  5. The content is composed of research reports.
  6. The language is jargon (or terms that assume that the reader is an expert in the subject).
  7. The publisher is often an association or university (a non-profit institution).
  8. The source is reliable, because the sources are peer-reviewedby other scholars.



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