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How to Find Articles: Scholarly vs. Popular Resources


  • Scholarly sources are articles written by experts in a field for the purpose of sharing original research.
  • Popular sources are primarily magazine and newspaper articles written with an informal tone and scope and intended for a general audience. 
  • Peer Review is a publishing process in academic fields. Prior to publication in a scholarly journal, an article is reviewed by other researchers and professionals in the specific subject area. This process is called "peer review" because the author's peers (i.e. other scholars or professionals in the field) decide if the article should be published. Peer reviewed articles are the ultimate in scholarly information.

Peer reviewed articles are scholarly sources; but not every article you find in a scholarly journal will be peer reviewed! Confusing? Yes! But to explain, a scholarly journal will often have other types of article content inside, like book reviews and editorials, which did not go through the special peer review process before being added and published in the scholarly journal. This is why using databases is so important; most databases will have special search filters so that you can limit your searches to just peer reviewed articles, if this is a requirement for your research.

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

 Criteria     Scholarly Journals        Popular Magazines





Usually a scholar or researcher with expertise in the subject area; Author's credentials and/or affiliation are given.

Author's name may or may not be given; often a professional writer; may or may not have expertise in the subject area.


  Audience Other scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist.




Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area  (or a good specialized dictionary!).


Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers.





Graphs, charts, and tables; very few advertisements and photographs.


Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs.

  Layout &

Structured; generally includes the article abstract, objectives, methodology, analysis, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography. Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion.




Articles are evaluated by  peer-reviewers or referees who are experts in the field; edited for content, format,       and style.


Articles are evaluated by editorial staff, not experts in the field; edited for format and style.




Always has a list of references or bibliography; sources of quotes and facts are cited and can be verified.


Rarely has a list of references; usually does not give complete information about sources of information.




Annals of Mathematics,  Journal of Abnormal PsychologyHistory of Education Quarterly, almost anything with Journal in the title.


TimeNewsweekThe NationThe Economist

Adapted from a LibGuide by Laurel Eby at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at San Jose State University. 

Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

Not sure what a scholarly journal article is? Watch this video from the University of Washington Libraries to learn more.

Remember that not every article from a scholarly journal will be peer reviewed. If you require peer reviewed articles, check the search filters of the library research tool you are using to ensure your search will yield only peer reviewed articles.

Test Your Knowledge

Explore this tutorial and take the brief quiz testing your understanding of popular and scholarly articles!

University of Arizona quiz

University of Arizona - Popular or Scholarly Articles & Quiz

Scholarly or Not?

Read this article, Taxing Junk Food linked to the EBSCO Host Database and vote whether you think it's scholarly or popular.

Poll: Taxing Junk Food, Scholarly or Popular?
Scholarly source: 13 votes (72.22%)
Popular source: 5 votes (27.78%)
Total Votes: 18