Sherratt Library

Popular and Scholarly Sources

Your college professors will likely require that you use some academic or scholarly sources for your assignments. You may also be required to use primary sources. In this section we'll explore the differences between popular and scholarly sources and primary and secondary sources.

Not all information from articles is created equal! For academic writing, articles from scholarly journals are viewed as more authoritative than popular articles from newspapers and magazines. When you have a scholarly and popular periodical in your hand, it's usually fairly easy to determine which is which. However, since most students prefer to use articles from online subscription databases, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between scholarly and popular material.

Popular publications are non-expert sources intended to inform and entertain the general public. Magazines like Time and Rolling Stone are examples. Other examples of popular sources are newspapers, television and radio shows, and videos. Popular magazines and newspapers publish articles written for a general audience. Advertising is abundant. Articles rarely have bibliographies or references.

scholarly articleScholarly publications are written by experts and intended for an expert audience.  These sources are usually refereed or peer-reviewed (accepted for publication based on recommendations from recognized experts in their fields).  Examples of scholarly sources are scholarly journals, books, and documentaries. Scholarly journals publish articles written by scholars and researchers. Articles are written for specialized audiences, typically report research in that field, and usually have references or bibliographies. For a demo of clues to look for when identifying scholarly articles, see Anatomy of a Scholarly Article.

Here are some criteria you might consider in identifying whether an article is from a scholarly or popular source:

  Scholarly journals

American Journal of Health Education

Popular magazines

Sports Illustrated

Author Expert or professional. Journalist, popular author, or may not be listed.
Advertising Very little or specialized. Major amount.
Audience Advanced reading level; specialized audience. Basic reading level; general audience.
Purpose Discusses scholarly fields. Discusses current events and general interest topics.
Review Articles reviewed by peers or panel of experts. Articles only reviewed by magazine editor.
References References, footnotes, or a bibliography at end of articles. Articles seldom include references.
Examples Current History
Journal of Psychology
Journal of Supercomputing
Business Week
Psychology Today
Rolling Stone