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Research Survival Guide: Popular vs. Scholarly Resources

This guide will help you learn how to conduct college-level research for your classes.

Types of Sources

There are many types of sources you can use in your research:

         Types of Sources

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Popular and scholarly resources provide information on different levels of accessibility and specificity. Popular resources are readily available and can be easily consumed; scholarly resources are found in specialized publications and often contain specialized information. Take a look at this handout from MeL to learn more about the differences between academic journals, trade publications, and magazines!

  Popular Scholarly



  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Websites
  • Trade Publications
  • Scholarly journals
  • Dissertations/theses
  • Academic books
  • Readily available to the public
  • Available through libraries and online databases
  • Usually behind a paywall
  • Journalists
  • Freelance writers
  • Researchers
  • Scholars
  • Inform, entertain, persuade general public
  • Share original research with other researchers/scholars
  • Expand knowledge in discipline
  • No formal citations
  • All sources cited
  • Extensive reference lists or bibliographies
Editorial Process
  • Reviewed by single editor
  • Blind peer-review by multiple experts
  • Mix of short and in-depth articles on wide variety of subjects
  • Lengthy articles with subsections within articles (literature review, methodology, results, discussion, conclusion)

Watch this video from McMaster Libraries to understand the difference between popular and scholarly resources.

Ask yourself these questions to see if your source is scholarly:

  • Are the author’s credentials/affiliations listed?
  • Does the article begin with an abstract?
  • Does the source include extensive endnotes/footnotes or a list of references?
  • What is the length of the source? Is the source more than five pages long?
  • Is the source in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal?

In a university setting, the credibility of your paper rests on the credibility of your sources. Your paper will have more impact and be taken more seriously if you use research conducted by experts in the field that you are writing about. Using scholarly sources add weight and credibility to your research.

  • Most scholarly articles undergo a peer-review process that ensures the published work is authoritative and of high quality. Watch this video from the American Chemical Society to learn more about the peer-review process.

Look at a journal's submission criteria. This may tell you whether a peer-review is conducted on articles submitted for publication. For example, Wiley Publishing has the peer-review process described on their website:

Peer-Review Process

This shows you that articles in Wiley journals are reviewed multiple times for accuracy before the article is even accepted for publication.