Answered By: Maggie Bates
Last Updated: Dec 01, 2022     Views: 40229

Scholarly sources usually come in the form of articles in academic, peer-reviewed journals. You can find these in research databases or listed in indexes like Google Scholar. Scholarly research is also published in book form. Popular publications will vary a lot more in format, including articles in newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as websites, TV shows, social media etc.

There are a number of factors that distinguish a scholarly source from a popular one:

 Scholarly  Popular

How it is published?

  • articles are peer-reviewed prior to publication. This is a stringent process in which experts evaluate the credibility and significance of the research, and then recommend to publish it, request revisions, or simply reject it;
  • must include a bibliography/ works cited;
  • based in research, not opinion.
  • articles may be edited and fact-checked;
  • but some sources such as blogs and other self-published materials will have no oversight at all;
  • might contain references but it's not a requirement;
  • may be opinion-based.
Who is the author?
  • written by experts in a specific area of study;
  • authors will have credentials appropriate to their field;
  • includes professors, lab researchers, grad students and accomplished specialists.
  • written by anyone;
  • author could be an expert, a staff writer, a freelancer, an unpaid intern, etc.;
  • there is no requirement that an author have subject expertise or significant knowledge of a subject.
Who is the intended audience?
  • fellow experts and researchers in the same specific area of study;
  • writing will be dense and technical, with lots discipline-specific vocabulary;
  • readership numbers are low.
  • the general public, or a specific segment of the population (eg. football fans or skincare enthusiasts);
  • uses plain language and visually attractive layouts;
  • seeks to attract the largest possible audience.
Who are the publishers?
  • published by scholarly organizations, which are often sponsored by institutions like universities and professional organizations;
  • there are also for-profit academic publishing companies.
  • typically published by for-profit publishing or media companies;
  • can also be self-published (eg. blogs, social media).

It's worth noting that academic journals may contain editorials, book reviews, and news that do not undergo peer review. If you are uncertain if an article in an academic journal is peer-review, look for contextual clues, such as a heading indicating a column is an Editorial or Letter. This Research Guide also helpfully breaks down different types of sources.

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