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Research Guides

Information Literacy & Library Research: Popular vs Scholarly

Information literacy is the ability to know when information is needed and to be able to identify, locate and evaluate, and then legally and responsibly use and share that information.

Source Types Continued

In a previous reading, the different source types of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary were described, as well as how to use each. This reading will go into more detail about secondary sources as it divides them into the subgroups of popular and scholarly.

Note for INFO 1010:

This reading is important for the module 4 assignment, as you start finding and evaluating different secondary source types. A clear understanding of what makes a source scholarly and what makes it popular (for general audiences) will help you use the CRAAP test more effectively. It will also help you as you do your Module 3 Assignment, since you will quickly be able to look at your results and notice what types of results your searches are bringing you, so you can adjust your searches accordingly.

Popular vs. Scholarly

There are many different names for the publications. Serials, periodicals, journals, magazines, newspapers- all meaning publications that are published on a frequent basis, such as daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly. If you were given a physical copy of such a publication, it might be easy to see the difference. A newspaper is obviously different from a magazine, or a thick scholarly publication. However, when it is viewed in an online subscription database, it becomes much more difficult to tell the difference.

What is a Popular Publication?

  • Magazines and Newspapers are considered popular publications.
    • They are written by journalists or professional writers to a general audience to inform or entertain.
      • These are non-specialists writing, with no new research.
      • This means they will be easy to read for anyone.
      • Shorter with really basic information.
      • Not technical.
    • They have lots of pictures and ads.
      • The pictures will be eye catching and abundant.
      • There will be a good portion of a page or pages in the article given to advertisements.
    • Magazines like Time and Rolling Stone are examples.
      • Other examples of popular sources include newspapers, television, podcasts, and videos.
  • Most websites are also considered Popular Publications
    • .com and .net, (and sometimes .org or .gov) websites are all typically popular and will follow many of the traits of Magazines and Newspapers.
      • All Magazine and News websites will usually have a .com domain.
      • There will be a lot of ads.
      • They are written for a general audience and aren't technical.
      • There will be lots of pictures, videos, and other graphics.
    • and are examples

Often your assignments will require that you use only scholarly or peer reviewed articles. However, magazine and newspaper articles still have their place, though maybe not in your works cited page. It depends on your assignment and the quality of the popular publication. Use the CRAAP Test to decide that.

Popular publications can be good for background research on your topic. They are published more frequently, and so they are a good way to know what's new and interesting. They are what people are talking about right now. They can also give real-world examples that can help you illustrate a point in your argument, providing some emotional appeal when needed. Oftentimes they will point you to the original researcher or article that can give you more information.

What is a Scholarly Publication?

  • These are publications that are written by subject specialists for specialists.
    • such as other researchers, scholars, faculty, and students like you.
  • They are usually very technical and full of jargon, which means they can be really difficult to read and understand.
  • They will always cite their sources and a full reference list will be given at the end.
  • The articles will be longer and the only pictures used are usually for the purpose of informing.
    • This includes graphs, diagrams, and explanatory pictures.
  • .edu and some .org websites can more likely be considered scholarly, although even the most scholarly website will not be peer reviewed, unless you happen upon the website of a scholarly journal.
    • If you do find scholarly journals outside of the library database, it's likely that you will encounter paywalls keeping you from actually reading the articles. Try to locate the articles in the databases for free access, or order them through interlibrary loan.
    • and are examples of databases with .org domains, but free access will only be available through SUU library.
  • Domain types are only sometimes telling, so don't ever judge based solely on the domain, but look at the other clues and learn more about the website itself, such as using the CRAAP test.

More About Peer Review

A map of the peer review process of Sci Forschen, showing the stages of review.Most likely when you are given your assignment, you are told what kind of sources you have to use, and scholarly, academic, or peer-reviewed articles are probably in the list of requirements.

Scholarly or Peer Reviewed articles are the kinds of sources that you are more likely to use when writing your papers. They are more likely to be published quarterly or bi-monthly since they have to go through an extensive peer review publication process to ensure that the quality of the article is good. This means that the article is written by specialists, who then send in their work to be reviewed by editors and other specialists in the field who give feedback and approval.

While the peer review process isn't perfect, it usually ensures that the research in the articles is of a higher quality and generally accepted by the specialists in that field. Make sure you still do your research into the article itself, along with the author, publisher, and publishing date.

Scholarly articles are going to represent more in depth information with lots of details. This can give you a lot of information to use in your assignment. A properly cited scholarly article is a good way to back up your argument, as the information you are using is coming from an authoritative source.

Because scholarly published articles list their references, you can also use it to trace back to other sources that you might be able to use in your paper as well. Pay attention to what is being cited in the parts that are relevant to your paper and check out the cited article. You may just find another source for your assignment.