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Research: Where do I begin?: Scholarly or Popular?

Scholarly or Popular?

Popular Articles (Magazines)

  • Are often written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience
  • Use language easily understood by general readers
  • Rarely give full citations for sources
  • Written for the general public
  • Tend to be shorter than journal articles

Examples of Popular Magazines:

Business Week cover Time cover Discover cover
US New & World Report cover Astronomy cover  


Scholarly Articles (Journals)

  • Are written by and for faculty, researchers or scholars (chemists, historians, doctors, artists, etc.)
  • Uses scholarly or technical language
  • Tend to be longer articles about research
  • Include full citations for sources
  • Are often refereed or peer reviewed (articles are reviewed by an editor and other specialists before being accepted for publication)
  • Book reviews and editorials are not considered scholarly articles, even when found in scholarly journals

Examples of Scholarly Journals:

American Journal of Political Science cover Business History Review cover International Journal of Middle East Studies cover
Child Development cover The Classical Review cover  

Some points to remember:

  • Both magazine and journal articles can be good sources for your work.
  • When selecting articles, think about how you intend to use the information:
    • Do you want background on a topic new to you? (use magazines)
    • Did your teacher say to cite scholarly resources? (use journals)
  • Often a combination of the two will be most appropriate for undergraduate research.

Popular vs. Scholarly


  • Are usually staff or freelance writers
  • May not be identified
  • Credentials usually not given
  • Were not directly involved in the ideas, events, and work they are reporting


  • Written for a large general audience
  • Language is non-technical
  • Gives an overview of the subject
  • Reports on research from information already published in scholarly journals
  • Usually does not include a bibliography that identifies sources
  • Glossy illustrations used to complement the article
  • Many advertisements for popular products
  • Cover is designed to be eye-catching


  • Content is evaluated by editors who are journalists, not experts in the field
  • Fact-checking is careful, but not extensive
  • To entertain is more important than to inform


  • Are specialists or experts in their field
  • Are always named, and
  • Professional affiliation or credentials are usually given
  • Are reporting on findings or observations from their original research


  • Aimed at professionals in the field
  • Earliest reports of research findings
  • Language and tone are serious and scholarly
  • Vocabulary can include technical "jargon" of the field
  • Illustrations are few and only serve to document and support the contents of the article
  • Bibliography almost always included
  • Advertising is absent or of interest only to the profession




  • Articles are evaluated and edited by others in the field (peer-reviewed)
  • Standards of content and documentation are stringent

Scholarly or Popular Articles?

Here are the general differences between scholarly journals and popular magazines:

Scholarly Popular
Examples Energy Policy, International Philosophical Quarterly; Journal of Cultural History Time, Cosmopolitan
Purpose Represents scholarly research General Information and entertainment
Author Experts and scholars in the field Often no author is listed, or the author is not an expert or scholar
Publisher University, research press, professional association Commercial publisher
References Bibliographies and lists of references Often no cited references or bibliography

Popular and Scholarly Sources Tutorial

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