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Information Literacy: 11. Popular vs. Scholarly

Strategies used to incorporate research skills for the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Management.

Popular vs. Scholarly Video

Popular vs. Scholar
Learn to differentiate between popular and scholarly sources and will be able to use them appropriately in their research.

(CLIP video, 5 min.)

Differences Between Popular vs. Scholar

With so many articles out there, how do you tell the difference between popular and scholarly sources? And why do you think knowing the difference between popular and scholarly sources might be important?



Popular literature appears in magazines and newspapers. The covers are often glossy or eye-catching, and can be purchased at bookshops or newsstands.  These sources are geared toward a broad, general audience, and the articles are reviewed by professional staff editors.


Language is meant to be understood by the general population.  Articles appear in magazines or newspapers. Tend to be shorter than journal articles.  May include pictures, special layouts and/or advertisements. Articles do not usually list references or notes. 


Popular sources may present news and current events. The review process to publish popular articles is short, so they can be a good place to look for very current information. Popular sources may tell human interest stories or convey emotional responses.  They can also be useful for getting an overview of a topic.


Time cover Discover cover US New & World Report cover Astronomy cover  




Scholarly literature is published in subject-specific journals. Some examples below include the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, and International Studies Quarterly.  Scholarly journals are typically available through subscription only. You won't usually find them in stores.  These articles are geared towards scholars and experts in the field, and they undergo reviewing by other scholars in the field, known as the peer-review process.


Articles appear in subject-specific journals, and are written by and for scholars and researchers.  Articles are often refereed or peer-reviewed.  They may include graphs, data and/or statistics about their research. The language used is subject-specific, so it will include professional terms and phrases.  The articles usually include a list of references or notes, and tend to be longer.


Scholarly literature is useful for gathering subject specific information, research and data. It is a way for scholars to communicate, and may present or review research or criticism on a given topic.  When this literature is peer-reviewed, scholars are aware that the quality and reliability of the information presented in these articles is much greater.


American Journal of Political Science cover Business History Review cover International Journal of Middle East Studies cover Child Development cover  



  • Both scholarly and popular sources can be good sources for your work. 
  • When selecting articles, think about how you intend to use the information: 
    • Do you want background on a topic? (popular
    • Do you need reliable and well-research information? (scholarly) 
  • Often a combination of the two will be most appropriate for undergraduate research.


You might find that resources provided by your library can be really helpful, and you can access many of these resources online through your library's website. Click here to learn more about peer-review. And don't forget that our librarians are excellent resources!