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Scholarly vs. Popular

Resources are typically divided into two categories: they are either scholarly or popular in nature.  A scholarly journal (also known as an academic journal or a peer-reviewed journal) is a type of serial publication which publishes articles of a scholarly nature.

Many of your class assignments will require you to find scholarly, peer-reviewed sources. There are research tools to help you find these sources - for example, many library databases offer the option to filter search results to only scholarly sources - but it's also important to understand what is meant by the term 'scholarly source.' Take a look at the criteria listed below in order to better understand the difference between scholarly and popular sources.

Criteria Scholarly Popular

Very few, if any advertisements

Ads are usually for publication services in the field

Funded primarily through subscriptions

Many advertisements; full-page, glossy images

Ads for retail products and services

Funded through advertising revenue and subscriptions

Appearance Plain design, black and white images; dense blocks of text; charts, graphs, and tables included to support the research Slick design; large, glossy photos; full-page advertisements; glossy paper (if printed)

Scholars, experts in the field, usually with terminal degrees (PhD, MBA, MFA, etc.) in the discipline being covered

Journalists, general public
Audience Other researchers, college and university professors & students (i.e. scholars like you!) General public
Citations Formal citation style for in-text citations / footnotes and bibliographies No formal citations included in text; sources may or may not be cited; electronic resources may include hyperlinks to sources
Editors / Editing Process

Undergoes a formal peer-review process: reviewed by in-house journal editors as well as other scholars in the field.

Review and editing process typically takes a long period of time (up to or over 1 year, in some cases).

Reviewed by in-house editors or not edited at all. May be published quickly after writing.

Follows strict structure that includes some or all of the following:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodologies (if appicable)
  • Results (if applicable)
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
Format varies significantly; rarely follows a formal structure
Language Dense; uses subject-specific terminology (jargon) without explaining or defining terminology Easier to read; defines any specialized terms
Purpose To publish current research, to educate To inform or to entertain