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Scholarly vs. Popular Publications

Both scholarly and popular publications have their place in college research. Regardless of the nature of your research paper, it is important to know the difference. The tables below will help you to distinguish between scholarly and non-scholarly publications.

The characteristics of the publication's cover can often provide you with valuable clues for determining whether or not it is scholarly or popular.

 

First Glance

Scholarly Publications  Popular or General Interest Publications 
  Journal of BTC cover Macleans magazine cover
Physical Appearance Journal covers have a serious and plain appearance. Words such as journal, bulletin, review, or quarterly in the title of the publication indicate that the publication is most likely scholarly in nature. Covers are often glossy, with colour pictures, graphics or advertisements. They frequently have an appealing, eye-catching appearance.

 

The Libraries has thousands of journals and magazines in full-text accessible through the Libraries' online databases (E-Resources), and many journals in print. It is often difficult to distinguish between scholarly and popular publications. You can use the information in the tables below to help you decide.

An article may be considered scholarly even if it does not meet all of the criteria listed below. However, as a guideline, the majority of the criteria should be met.

Before conducting a search, check and see if the database has an option to limit your search to scholarly or "peer reviewed"** publications. For example, there may be a box you can check that says "peer reviewed." While this is a good first step, you should be aware that each database provider (e.g. EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Gale) may have different definitions of "peer reviewed." Therefore, you should also apply the criteria in the tables below to journal articles that you plan to use in your own paper.

**Peer Reviewed, This term generally refers to a publication that contains only articles that have been reviewed, (qualified) edited and selected by recognized experts in the particular field of study covered by the journal. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, has a detailed explanation of peer review.



Surveying the Article

Scholarly Publications  Popular or General Interest Publications 
Length Longer articles provide in-depth analysis of a topic. Shorter articles provide a broader overview of a topic.
Features  Diagrams, graphs, maps, tables and photographs closely support the text of the work.  Illustrations with glossy or colour photographs are present. They are often included for advertising purposes. 
Credits A bibliography (works cited) along with footnotes or endnotes are always provided to thoroughly document research. A bibliography is not usually included. References may be mentioned within the text. Reported information may originate from second or third hand sources.
Authorship
 
The author is often an expert or a specialist in the field. The name and credentials are provided in the article. The educational institution which the author is affiliated with may be given. Credentials may include a Ph.D. It is common for an article to be written jointly by more than one author. The author may be a magazine staff writer, a journalist, a freelance writer, or an editor. The name and credentials may not be provided.
Frequency  Journals are published less frequently, such as quarterly, over the course of a year.  Published monthly, weekly and even daily. 
Publisher  Publications may be published by a professional association or a university press.  Publishers are frequently commercial entities. 
Editors  Articles are reviewed, critically evaluated and selected by an independent board of specialists in the particular field. The journal is said to be refereed or peer reviewed.  Articles are commonly reviewed by staff editors. 

 

Reading the Article

Attribute  Scholarly Publications  Popular or General Interest Publications 
Structure
A specific structure is frequently identifiable. The paper may include an abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion and a bibliography. Articles often convey original or experimental research.  Issues aim at covering familiar topics of interest and current events. Written pieces do not necessarily adhere to a standard structure. 
Language The articles use the specialized language of the field of study.  Articles are written in non-technical language. 
Audience  The articles are written to communicate with professionals in the field of study, including professors, researchers and students. Some knowledge of the field of study is assumed. Articles are written with the general reader in mind. 
Point of View  Articles are considered to be objective.  Content may reflect the editorial point of view of the publisher. The writing style may be informal, anecdotal, personal or entertaining. 

 

Still Not Sure?

The online Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory  indicates "scholarly journal" or "magazine" status of periodicals. Also, Magazines for Libraries (Progress Library) has similar information. If you are still in doubt, check with your instructor.

A number of publications fall between scholarly and popular publications. Trade publications are also relevant and should be considered as you begin research for your paper. Some characteristics of trade publications are listed below.

 

Trade Publications

Attribute  Trade Publications 
Length Articles tend to be shorter in length. 
Features  Publications have a glossy finish with colour illustrations. Advertising is aimed at the industry. 
Credits A bibliography along with footnotes or endnotes is uncommon. 
Authorship Articles are written by industry practitioners and professional writers. They are not always signed by the author.
Frequency Published monthly or weekly.
Publishers Frequently published by trade associations or for-profit companies. 
Editors Staff editors review the articles. 
Structure Articles cover industry trends, news and statistics. 
Language The writing may contain technical language that is used by those in the industry. 
Audience  Articles are written for those connected to the industry.
Point of View  Content may reflect the industry's perspective, particularly on regulatory and legislative matters.




Internet Sites for Further Information

Distinguishing Scholarly Journals (Cornell University Library)
http://guides.library.cornell.edu/scholarlyjournals