Research Help

Scholarly or Popular?

Many general databases will bring articles and citations from various sources such as popular magazines, major newspapers and scholarly/academic journals. How do you know what is a scholarly or academic source and what is a popular publication?


  • Type of publication?
  • Who is the author?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the goal?
  • Are there citations?
  • What is the writing level?
  • What is the article length?
  • Are there graphics?
  • Does it have advertisements?
  • Examples:


  • Academic journal - also known as refereed or peer-reviewed
  • Authors are experts on topic
  • Audience are scholars and students of the journal's discipline
  • The goal of the article is to inform/update
  • Articles must includes footnotes & bibliography
  • The writing level is academic; includes large words, jargon
  • Article length is longer than popular sources; up to 30 pages
  • If there are graphics, it is used to illustrate a point
  • Advertisements are limited or there are none
  • Examples would be: Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Journal of Higher Education


  • General interest magazine
  • Authors are lay reporter or staff writer
  • Audience is the general public
  • Goal is often to entertain
  • Articles have no formal citation
  • Writing level is 7-10 th grade level; language is familiar
  • Article length is usually short; 1-3 pages
  • Graphics are used for visual impact
  • Many glossy advertisements
  • Examples would be: People Weekly, Newsweek, PC Magazine