Scholarly v. Popular Sources

Scholarly information communicates research findings and stimulates discussion among academic professionals and students. Scholarly sources strive to be authoritative, accurate, and detailed, and they document the sources of the ideas they contain.

Popular information is intended to inform and entertain a more general audience. Popular sources attempt to attract readers by eye-catching covers and illustrations, exciting headlines and high-interest topics, and straightforward, non-technical language.

Both types of information are valuable, but professors often expect students to confine their research to scholarly publications. There is no strict dividing line, so the challenge for you as a student is:

How can you tell which publications are scholarly?

Clue Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine
Audience Experts in the field (researchers, professors) and students General public
Authors Experts on the subject Magazine staff or freelancers who are professional writers but not necessarily experts on the subject
Publishing decisions Made by editorial board of outside experts and by peer review Made by editor employed by magazine
Content Original research Reporting of ideas and research originating elsewhere
Writing style Articles are lengthy; language can be complex or technical Articles are short; language is geared toward an average reader
Documentation Author's name always included; notes and bibliography/references provided as supporting evidence and for further reading Articles may be unsigned, notes and bibliography/references seldom provided
Appearance Plain and sober with few illustrations; may include tables and charts Colorful, eye-catching, includes photographs and other illustrations
Advertisements Few in number; usually advertising specialized publications and conferences Many in number; usually feature consumer products
Page numbering Usually numbered consecutively through a year's worth of issues Each issue begins with page 1
Availability Available by subscription only Available by subscription, on newsstands and in bookstores; usually have a strong web site