Scholarly Sources and Popular Sources

12 Sep

Last week, we discussed using Google, the Library, and Online Databases and we learned it is almost as easy to use the Online Library as it is to use Google, and the Online Library will help you select scholarly sources. That said, what is a scholarly source? Are all sources scholarly? How do we tell the difference between a scholarly source and a popular source?

What is a scholarly source? 

A scholarly source, also known as a peer reviewed source, is a source that has been reviewed and recognized by experts in the field. Typically, scholarly sources include things like books and scholarly journal articles. Scholarly sources are often written by a specialist in the field for other specialists working in that same period, so they can be difficult to read and they may include a lot of technical jargon.

What is a popular source? 

On the other hand, a popular source, which may be edited and evaluated prior to publication, is typically written by someone with a general knowledge of the topic, and it is targeted toward the average reader. Popular sources can include newspaper and magazine articles, but also web articles, interviews, etc. Popular sources are often easier to read and more visually appealing than scholarly sources.

Let’s break it down: 

Scholarly Sources

  • Written by specialists with an in-depth knowledge of the subject (researchers, etc.)
  • Targeted toward a narrower, more focused audience (other specialists)
  • Not flashy; lots of text; few images and advertisements
  • Contain objective articles with few opinions
  • Will include citations for source material
  • Often include original research
  • Articles are longer in length

Popular Sources

  • Often written by non-specialists (journalists, writers, etc.)
  • Targeted toward a broad, general audience
  • Often colorful or flashy, with advertisements and pictures
  • Frequently used for entertainment, current events, and opinions
  • Do not cite sources directly
  • Often do not include original research
  • Articles are shorter in length

Unfortunately, as we can see, not all sources are scholarly sources. In fact, most newspaper, magazine, or web articles are not scholarly because they are not written by experts in the field and they have a more general approach. This does not mean that we should ignore popular sources altogether, but that we want to be careful with our source selection. When doing research, you should consider a variety of popular sources and scholarly sources in order to achieve an adequate understanding of your topic.

Have additional questions? Need help with research? Visit the Library (in 1 North) or the Writing Center (in B17-A) for additional assistance!


One Response to “Scholarly Sources and Popular Sources”


  1. Research Topics & Research Questions | The Christ College Writing Center - September 19, 2014

    […] week, we discussed the differences between Popular and Scholarly Sources, and the week before that, we reviewed the advantages and disadvantages to using Google, the […]

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