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Scholarly vs Popular Sources

Learn the differences between scholarly and popular sources.

Scholarly or Popular: What's the Difference?

This guide will help you understand the difference between popular and scholarly sources that are published on an ongoing basis. These include journals, magazines, newspapers, serials, and periodicals.

Popular Magazines & Newspapers

Scholarly Journals

Trade and Professional Publications

Publication Types: A Comparative Chart

Verifying Publication Types

A Word of Caution

Popular Magazines & Newspapers

Popular magazines and newspapers are written by journalists who are employed by the publication for which they write. They cover news and current events, profiles of people or places, and/or political opinions.


  • National Geographic
  • Psychology Today
  • Rolling Stone
  • Science News
  • Anchorage Daily News
  • Sports Illustrated

Scholarly Journals

Scholarly (or academic) journals contain articles written by researchers who are experts in their field. Authors are usually employed by colleges, universities, or other institutions of education or research. Articles are submitted to the editors of the journals who decide whether or not to publish. The most prestigious journals use the peer review process. In this process, an article is reviewed by experts in the field (peers) who suggest changes and recommend whether the article should be published.


  • Journal of American History
  • Psychological Review
  • Nature
  • Contemporary Accounting Research
  • Journal of Higher Education
  • American Journal of Sports Medicine

Trade and Professional Publications

Trade and professional publications contain articles written by people working in a specific discipline, industry, or field of work. Articles focus on news in the field, brief reports on research, and opinions about trends and events.


  • American Libraries
  • Advertising Age
  • Professional Pilot
  • Public Manager
  • Mayo Clinic Health Letter
  • Chronicle of Higher Education


Modified from Popular Literature vs. Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Literature, Rutgers University Libraries (no longer available from Rutgers).

Publication Types: A Comparative Chart






To inform and entertain the general reader

To communicate research and scholarly ideas

To inform readers about a given profession


General public

Other scholars, students

Practitioners in the field, professionals


Broad variety of public interest topics, multiple subjects

Very narrow and specific subjects

Information relevant to a profession


Commercial publishers

Professional associations, academic institutions, and commercial publishers

Professional associations or trade groups


Employees of the publication, freelancers (including journalists and scholars)

Scholars/academics, researchers, experts (usually listed with their institutional affiliation)

Members of the profession, journalists, researchers, scholars


  • Little technical language or jargon
  • Few or no cited references
  • Absence of list of sources used
  • General summaries of background information
  • Extensive ads throughout
  • Articles are usually brief; between 1-7 pages
  • Little or no background information given
  • Technical language and discipline-specific jargon
  • Often peer reviewed
  • Cites sources throughout
  • Includes list of sources used
  • Few to no ads
  • Procedures and materials often described in detail
  • Articles are longer, often over 5 pages
  • Application of new technology
  • Employment issues
  • Practitioners viewpoint
  • Technical language used
  • Interpretation of research trends and issues
  • May include list of sources
  • Articles are usually brief; between 1-7 pages
  • Contains ads


Frequent, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis

Less frequent, on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis

Frequent, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis


National Geographic, Psychology Today, Rolling Stone, Science News, Anchorage Daily News, Sports Illustrated

Journal of American History, Psychological Review, Nature, Contemporary Accounting Research, Journal of Higher Education, American Journal of Sports Medicine

American Libraries, Advertising Age, Professional Pilot, Public Manager, Mayo Clinic Health Letter, Chronicle of Higher Education

Modified from Popular Literature vs. Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Literature, Rutgers University Libraries (no longer available from Rutgers).

Verifying Publication Types

You can check the following resources to determine whether a title is scholarly, popular/consumer, or trade/professional.

A Word of Caution

Not everything published in a peer-reviewed journal is peer reviewed. Book reviews, editorial (opinion) pieces, short news items, etc., are not considered scholarly articles. If you are unsure about using the information you've found, be sure to ask a librarian or check with your professor.

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Guide Owner

This guide is maintained by Ruth D. Terry.