Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

First-Year Writing Seminar

A collection of research resources for students enrolled in First Year Writing Seminar.

Scholarly and Popular Sources

A scholarly publication is one in which the content is written by experts in a particular field of study - generally for the purpose of sharing original research or analyzing others' findings. Scholarly work will thoroughly cite all source materials used and is usually subject to "peer review" prior to publication. This means that independent experts in the field review, or "referee" the publication to check the accuracy and validity of its claims. The primary audience for this sort of work is fellow experts and students studying the field. As a result the content is typically much more sophisticated and advanced than articles found in general magazines, or professional/trade journals.

In brief, scholarly work is:

  • written by experts for experts
  • based on original research or intellectual inquiry
  • provides citations for all sources used
  • is usually peer reviewed prior to publication

To see the typical components of a scholarly journal article check out the Anatomy of a Scholarly Article from North Carolina State University Libraries (resource may not be accessible).

Popular sources

While many of your research projects will require you to read articles published in scholarly journals, books or other peer reviewed source of information, there is also a wealth of information to be found in more popular publications. These aim to inform a wide array of readers about issues of interest and are much more informal in tone and scope. Examples include general news, business and entertainment publications such as Time Magazine, Business Weekly, Vanity Fair.

  • Note, special interest publications which are not specifically written for an academic audience are also considered "popular" i.e., National Geographic, Scientific American, Psychology Today.

Professional/Trade sources

These are more specialized in nature than popular publications, but are not intended to be scholarly. These types of publications are aimed at experts in the field and/or keen amateurs, but the content focuses on news, trends in the field, promotional material etc. Research findings are not typically disseminated here - though they may report that a scholarly publication is forthcoming. These types of publications typically will contain more advertising than a scholarly journal - though it's usually targeted to the field in some way. Examples: Publishers Weekly; Variety; Education Digest

Source: University of British Columbia Wiki, "Library:Scholarly versus Popular Sources"

Popular and Scholarly Sources: The Information Cycle (YouTube Video)

Is it Scholarly?

If you aren't sure if a work is scholarly, start by answering these questions.

 

1. Are the author's academic credentials included?

  • Yes
    • Credentials will often include where the author the author received her PhD, what government or research organization she works for, or what school or college she works for.
    • Be sure the credentials relate to the topic. Physics credentials do not make someone an expert of Chinese Art.)
  • No
    • Credentials will often include where the author the author received her PhD, what government or research organization she works for, or what school or college she works for.
    • Did you check the end of the work too?  In some disciplines, credentials appear there.
  • Not Sure
    • Credentials will often include where the author the author received her PhD, what government or research organization she works for, or what school or college she works for.
    • Maybe you found the author credentials, but you don’t trust they are academic or appropriate. Consider the credentials of the journal, organization, publisher or website itself.

 

2. Page through the work. Does it have a formal structure?

A formal structure in an article or book chapter often include headings such as "literature review," "results," "discussion," "conclusion." Full-length scholarly books (often called monographs) often contain similar sections.

  • Yes
    • Scholarly articles, book chapters and monographs have a formal structure and present new ideas or an original study. They will mention other works in the field.
  • No
    • Scholarly articles, book chapters and monographs have a formal structure and present new ideas or an original study. They will mention other works in the field.
    • While the headings “Literature Review, “ Methods,” and “Discussion.” are common in some disciplines, there are plenty of scholarly articles that don't use those exact headings. For articles in the humanities, for example, formal structure will include headings related to the subject of the article.
  • Not Sure
    • Check out the example articles and Evaluating Resources document above.

 

3. Does the author include a list of works cited, references, or a bibliography?

  • Yes
    • It is always important for scholars to build on the work of other scholars and to give credit where credit is due. The citations may include footnotes and/or endnotes.
  • No
    • This work is probably not scholarly
  • Not Sure
    • The bibliography or works cited is often found at the end of the article. It is possible that the article will have footnotes and endnotes.

 

(These questions adapted from the University of Michigan's "Is it Scholarly?" tool.)