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Scholarly and Popular Resources

Video: Scholarly v. Popular

Video from Vanderbilt University's Peabody Library, showing how to identify scholarly journal articles:

Additional Resources

Here are  some other tutorials that discuss scholarly articles:

Scholarly Journals

These are a few examples of scholarly, peer-reviewed journals:

Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography

American Psychologist


Educational Researcher


Why are Scholarly Journals Important?

Your professor has told you to use 'scholarly journals' in your research. You might wonder what that means. Does it mean you just need to get it from the library? Or can you use any magazine other than something like US Weekly or The National Enquirer?

The question you need an answer to is What is a scholarly journal? This is one of the most frequent topics we explain to students, so know that you are not alone in wondering about it. Scholarly journals are also sometimes referred to as Academic Journals and Peer-Reviewed Journals. They differ from popular and trade publications in many ways and it can be tricky to figure out which is which. The primary difference in these types of journals or magazines is the process an article goes through in order to get published.  In a scholarly journal an expert in a field (like someone with a PhD - or your own professor!) writes an article and sends it off. Before the journal publishes this article they will send it out to other experts in the field, or the writer's peers for review (hence the term peer-reviewed). This process can take a lot of time so articles in peer-reviewed journals are not front-page news. You have just learned one clue as to what makes a scholarly journal; the news is not hot off the presses.

In contrast, Newspapers and news magazines are hot off the presses, and these are considered popular sources. They include publications such as The Chicago Tribune or Time Magazine or Newsweek. Of course, newspapers are often reliable sources of certain types of information, so an important thing to remember is that scholarly and popular doesn't neccessarily translate into reliable and questionable. In order for an article to get published in The Sun-Times, a journalist (as opposed to a field-expert) writes an article and her editor, or editing team checks for errors and then gets it out for people to read as quickly as possible.

What are some clues to distinguish between these types of sources?

  • The writer: A field expert? (scholarly), or a Journalist? (popular).
  • Timeliness of the article: Hot off the presses? (popular)
  • Pictures: Diagrams and few pictures? (scholarly); Many pictures related to the stories? (popular)
  • Format: Does it look like a newspaper? (Then it probably is) Does it have glossy pages and is available at Borders and the grocery store, or the airport? (It is probably popular). Is it on dull paper with a very specific-audience name such as American Journal of Botany? (It's probably Scholarly)

Remember these are just clues, you need to take them all into account and decide for yourself whether a journal is scholarly or not. Oftentimes it will say on the information page on their website, through the database, or in the print copy, so look around! If you need more help contact the library.

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