When selecting sources for your research project, your professor may indicate that you should use only scholarly sources or that you may use a variety of sources. Some databases will allow you to limit your search to scholarly, or peer-reviewed, sources while others will not. Therefore, you should be familiar with the differences between scholarly and popular sources. The following are factors to consider:
Scholarly journals report on scholarly research and may present the results of experiments or studies. Popular magazines are intended to inform or entertain, covering current events and hot issues and including commentaries on social and political issues.
Scholarly articles are written by experts in the field, such as professors, researchers and other scholars; their credentials and affiliations are provided. A scholarly article will often have more than one author. Popular magazine artilces are written by journalists and freelance or staff writers who work for the publication; most articles have only one author.
Scholarly articles are written to be read by other scholars and are often only available as a subscription or as a benefit of membership in a scholarly society. Popular magazines are written to be read by the general public and are sold on newstands, in bookstores and some supermarkets.
Scholarly articles include specialized terminology and jargon of the field. Popular magazines are written in non-technical language and are easy to understand.
Article length and structure:
Scholarly articles are lengthy and provide in-depth analysis of topics; they are more formal and structured with sections such as: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography. Popular magazine articles are usually short, giving a broader overview of a topic and do not follow a set structure or format.
Scholarly articles include the sources cited in endnotes or footnotes, plus a bibliography or works cited. Popular magazine articles rarely cite sources but may mention the source of statistics or special reports.
Scholarly journals contain few advertisements, usually just ads for books, journals or conferences. Popular magazines contain many advertisements as their main purpose is to make money for the publishers; the ads are often for consumer products such as cars, food, clothing, etc.
Scholarly journals are published monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Popular magazines are usually published weekly, monthly or daily.
A third type of periodicals is the trade journal/magazine which contains news and practical information for members of a specific trade/field or discipline. Articles are usually written ty practitioners in that field or journalists with subject expertise. The articles are usually short to medium-length and employ the technical terminology and jargon of the field. Sources are often mentioned and a bibliography may be included. Advertising is for specific products used in that field. Trade journals are usually published weekly or monthly.
Peer Review is a process by which scholarly work or research (often articles) are subjected to evaluation by other experts on the topic. Reviewers judge the work by its originality, accuracy of information, importance to the field, research methodology, and other criteria to determine if it is worthy of publication. Peer Review is also sometimes called "refereed".
Scholarly is a broader category, that includes peer review and review by editors who are experts in the subject. Both are very different from regular magazine articles which are usually reviewed by a professional editor who isn't an expert in the subject.
Interactive presentation created by NCSU Libraries demonstrates what areas to examine in a scholarly article