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Student Research Help - Sources

I need to know if a source is scholarly or popular.

In most cases, your instructors will require you to use at least some scholarly sources in your assignments. The reason for this is that, in the academic world, scholarly sources are considered the "cream of the crop"--the highest quality sources you can use. This is because scholarly sources are written by experts in the subject area, are based on actual research, and undergo an extensive review process (more on all of that below).

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a scholarly and a popular source. Use the below chart to help you decide if a source is scholarly or popular.

Characteristic What You'll See if a Source Is Scholarly: What You'll See if a Source is Popular:
  • author is a researcher at a college, university, or research center (for example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control)
  • author has an advanced degree (a master's or doctorate) in the subject about which they are writing
  • author is a journalist, staff, or freelance writer
  • author has a degree in journalism or writing                                                              
  • publisher is a:
    • university press, such as Oxford University Press
    • professional society, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers
    • publishing company known for publishing scholarly work, such as Elsevier
  • publisher is a publishing company known for publishing entertaining material for a general audience, such as HarperCollins
Editorial Process
  • editorial process includes peer review, a process through which people who are peers to the author (i.e. researchers in the same field) examine the work to ensure the research was done properly and the conclusions are valid

Note: Sources do not usually directly say whether they are peer reviewed. You may have to do some digging--for example, by reading about a journal on the journal's website--to determine whether a source is peer reviewed.

  • editorial process involves fact checking and evaluating the work's style and grammar
  • to report on or analyze the results of original research

Note: Sources may not state explicitly what their purpose is. You may have to critically read a source's introduction or examine the language and tone it uses in order to infer its purpose.

  • to entertain, persuade, sell, inform, etc.
  • always present in a structured format (MLA, APA, NLM) common to the field
  • there may be some quotes and references, but no formal citations
  • other researchers and students in the same field of study

Note: Sources do not usually directly say what their audience is. You may have to infer who the audience is based on the type of language and tone the source uses.

  • the general public

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