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English & Creative Writing Resources: Scholarly vs. Popular

Resources in support of studies in English language and literature

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Scholarly, peer-reviewed articles (also called “refereed”) are required for academic research. Scholars and researchers publish their findings almost exclusively in scholarly and academic periodicals (also called journals). Before being accepted for publication, these articles must be evaluated by experts in the field by a process called “peer-review.” This process insures the information is: 

  • Accurate
  • Authoritative
  • Original
  • Expands the understanding of the subject or area of study

Popular magazines may provide articles that address similar subjects as the scholarly journals, but these articles have not been evaluated by experts in the field, therefore, are not peer-reviewed, and are written for the general public. The intentions of popular periodicals are to give an overview of a topic, entertain, sell a product, or promote a viewpoint. 


R2-b of your Hacker's Guide.



Scholarly Peer-Reviewed articles

Popular Magazine articles

  • Plain, sober, or serious in appearance
  • Often provides an abstract, or descriptive summary
  • Always cite their sources in a bibliography
  • Written by scholars or researchers, for scholars and researchers
  • The author’s affiliations (university, research institution, professional organization) are always present
  • Written in specialized or scientific terms or jargon specific to the discipline
  • Few advertisements
  • May be published by a university or academic organization
  • Report on original research or experimentation



  • American Economic Review
  • Annual Review of Psychology
  • JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association
  • Journal of Theoretical Biology
  • Literary Ethics
  • Modern American Literature
  • Theory, Culture & Society
  • Glossy, slick, or eye-catching in appearance
  • Do not provide an abstract
  • News and general interest periodicals sometimes cite sources, though more often they do not
  • Written by a journalist for the general public or people in a particular field (trade magazines)
  • Written in layman or general language
  • Published by commercial companies, although some by professional organizations
  • Many advertisements
  • Provide entertainment or information to a broad audience
  • May be written in a more “sensational” style intending to arouse strong interest or reaction.



  • Psychology Today
  • National Geographic
  • Time
  • Reader’s Digest
  • Scientific American
  • Smithsonian
  • The Economist

(Engle, N.D.)


(PeabodyLibrary, 2007)

(PurdueLibraries, 2012, August 22)

Journals, magazines and periodicals. What's the difference?

The term periodicals covers a broad category of items published on a recurring basis. Periodicals include:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Academic Journals


Newspapers usually come out every day and report short stories on current events that are usually written for a general audience.


Magazines are periodicals that include short stories, news, in-depth reporting, and other types of articles directed towards a general audience. Most people can read a magazine article and understand it. In academia, we often refer to magazines as popular literature.


Journals are generally for an academic audience. The articles are written by researchers in a particular field for other researchers in that field. Usually, journals will include editorials, literature reviews, and primary research articles. Often times you may need to have a background in, or a degree to understand the primary research articles in a journal.

If you need to, go back and review some of the videos on the Scholarly vs. Popular page under the How Information is Organized tab

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