From vocabulary to form, all writing is tailored to reach an intended audience for a particular purpose. Your tone, vocabulary, and purpose in a research paper is likely not the same as when you write a note to your friend. When evaluating sources and choosing research sources, it is crucial to differentiate between scholarly and popular sources, and understand how these different kinds of sources can be strategically used to build a strong research paper.
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources
Scholarly sources and popular sources serve different purposes. Popular sources typically provide an overview of events or subjects. Even when popular articles are written by scholars about their field of expertise, popular articles are still written to be understood by a general audience.
Because popular sources are topical they are typically published at a faster rate than scholarly work to pace with popular conversation. If you are looking for a scholarly peer-reviewed article about something that happened yesterday, you will likely not find anything because scholarly publication cycles are slower.
This timeline of the Information Cycle from University of Florida librarian Lisa Campbell uses a timeline of content about the 2017 Women’s March to illustrate the publication process. Tweets and newspaper articles precede magazine articles by a week or more; academic articles about the march were published as early as 9 months after the event, while a chapter in a book took roughly two years to publish. Each form of media has a different audience, form, and purpose, and the publication pace reflects all of those considerations.
Popular magazines are often written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience. They contain shorter articles than scholarly journals, use language easily understood by the general public, and often have glossy colored photos and advertisements. They rarely give full citations for sources. Time Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Sports Illustrated are examples of popular magazines.
Scholarly journals are written by and for faculty, researchers, or scholars, and are often peer-reviewed. They use scholarly or technical language and tend to be longer articles, detailing the research process and findings. The abstract, a summary of the article, is found at the beginning of a scholarly article and can be quickly skimmed so busy researchers can move past articles not relevant to their research. Scholarly journals may contain charts and graphs, and they include the full citations of sources.
The Peer Review Process
Many articles in scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. Peer Review is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work or research to a panel of experts in the same field to scrutinize the paper for accuracy and relevancy before the article is accepted and published.
This process is generally considered necessary for academic quality and is used in most major scholarly journals. Many of our research databases allow you to limit your search to peer reviewed and/or scholarly journals. In the WorldCat database, you can limit your search to peer reviewed articles by using the "Limit To" filter on the left, illustrated in the screenshot below:
How to Read a Scholarly Article
The following resources explain how to strategically read scholarly articles:
Credo Video: How to Read a Scholarly Article
UBC i School How to Read and Academic Paper (video)
University of Illinois Video How to Read Scholarly Articles (video)
Tutorial from University of Oregon Libraries Anatomy of a Scholarly Article
Interactive Tutorial from Purdue University Libraries How to Read a Scientific Paper
- Last Updated: Dec 5, 2023 5:18 PM
- URL: https://guides.iona.edu/researchessentials
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