Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

There are a few key differences between popular and scholarly sources. One of the biggest reasons for the distinction is that your academic writing will most likely need scholarly work to support your thesis. Scholarly sources generally support their claims with research and other works that have been peer-reviewed. The peer review process allows for other experts on a particular topic to assess the claims of an article and, in many cases, ask for the author to revise the writing to the standards of their respective field.

This table refers to both print and online resources. You will probably access scholarly journal articles via your library’s online database rather than in print form.

Bibliographies or references are includedBibliographies or references are generally not included
Authors are experts in their fields, often educatorsAuthors are usually journalists or amateurs
Articles go through the peer review process (meaning an article is reviewed by others in the author’s field before it is published)Articles do not go through peer review
Articles are signed by the authors and include information about the author’s credentialsArticles are sometimes unsigned (especially on the web)
Audience is the scholarly reader, such as professors, researchers, or studentsAudience is the general population
Standardized formats are usually followed like APA, MLA, etc.Various formats which are often unstructured
Written in the jargon of the fieldWritten for anyone to understand
Any illustrations support the text, such as maps, tables, photographsOften profusely illustrated for marketing appeal
Includes articles in professional journals in both print and online formatsIncludes articles in popular magazines, in newspapers, and on the internet

* Table adapted from: Whitmore, Marilyn P. Empowering Students; Hands-on Library Instruction Activities. Pittsburgh: Library Instruction Publications, 1996. 6. Print.

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