Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources



Scholarly Source

A scholarly source is written by an expert or experts in the field and is intended for a specialized audience. In essence it uses discipline specific methodology, terminology and theory to discuss and analyze original research. Scholarly sources are usually found in specialized publications such as scholarly journals and academic books, they are mostly accessible through libraries and online databases and often contain very specialized information. Scholarly sources are written by researchers and scholars, so people like professors who are affiliated with academic or research institutions.They aim to present and share original research with other researchers and scholars, and they often contain technical jargon and specialized vocabulary. Finally, scholarly sources are usually connected to other scholarly work, so it’s essential that the authors document the resources they used in their own research. 

In brief,

  • written by experts for a specialized audience
  • discusses or analyzes original research
  • contain technical jargon and disciplione specific vocabularly
  • cite and document resources used
  • usually published in a peer reviewed journal or an edited academic book

Popular Sources

These resources are readily available and can be consumed in quick doses and are usually written by journalists and other freelance writers, who may not be specialists in the topics they’re writing about. Popular sources are usually written to inform, entertain or persuade the general public, so they tend to use everyday language accessible to all types of readers and don’t usually include a list of references, even if they might refer to the resources they used indirectly.

In brief,

  • written for a general audience
  • use accessible everyday language
  • written by a journalist or freelance writer

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Finding Scholarly Research

Finding Scholarly Research

Scholarly resources are mostly accessible through the university library and its online databases.

Library Catalogue

The Library Catalogue will show you all of the books belonging to the library collection. It is important to keep in mind that although this is a university library not all books in the collection are going to be scholarly in nature. So in order to determine if a book is scholarly take a look at:

  • the publisher since most scholarly books are published by a university or specialized press
  • the author is a recognized expert in the field associated with a university, college or research institute
  • the documentation of sources in the form of in text citation, footnotes, endnotes or a works cited
  • the language and writing style is discipline specific

Journal Databases

Journal Databases are your best option for finding scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles on a variety of topics and the library provides access to many databases that are relevant for your discipline, or program. Although databases are the best source for peer reviewed articles it is important to remember that not all articles found in databses are peer reviewed. Most but not all databases will allow you to limit your search to peer reviewed articles. Ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure that the hournal article you've selected is scholarly in nature. 

There are 3 major ways to find out if a particular journal is peer reviewed:

  • If you're searching for articles in certain interfaces (Scholars Portal, EBSCO), you can limit your search to peer-reviewed sources simply by selecting a tab or checking a box on the search screen.
  • If you're looking at the journal itself, look at the editorial statement or instructions to authors (usually in the first few pages of the journal or at the end) for references to the peer-review process.
  • Another way is to look up the journal in (AKA Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory) to find out whether the journal is peer reviewed. If Ulrichsweb says the journal is "refereed", it's peer reviewed.
  • Tip: an easy way to look up a journal in Ulrichsweb is to click the Get it! button for the article, and at the bottom of the Get it! window, click "More Options" then click "Learn more about this journal". You will go to Ulrich's automatically and see the info for the journal, including if it's peer-reviewed (refereed) or not.

Quick Search

Quick Search provides one stop access to all library material including peer reviewed articles and scholarly books. Similarily to many of the library databases Quick Search allows you to filter your search to peer reviewed journal articles.

Scholarly Peer Reviewed Journals

Scholarly Journals

Peer review is the process used by publishers and editors of academic / scholarly journals to ensure that the articles they publish meet the accepted standards of their discipline. Manuscripts being considered for publication are sent to  independent experts in the same field (the author's scholarly or scientific peers). They evaluate the quality of the scholarship, reliability of findings, relevance to the field, appropriateness for the journal, etc. Most, but not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed. 

Articles in "scholarly" journals, also known as "academic" journals, are distinguished from those in mass-media magazines (Maclean's, Chatelaine, Newsweek) by the following characteristics:

  • they report on or review original research, experimentation, or in-depth analysis
  • their authors are scholars (researchers, experts) in a particular field of study, and are identified as such
  • they are formal in writing style and format, aimed at a specialized, academic audience and use specialized language
  • articles tend to be lengthy and usually consist of a number of distinct sections such as: abstract (a short summary of the article); introduction and statement of the problem; literature review; methodology; data collection; analysis; conclusions and recommendations for further research
  • sources are cited with footnotes or a bibliography at the end of the article
  • they contain little, if any advertising
  • to verify whether a journal is scholarly you can also look up the journal in

Most, though not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed.


Grey Literature

Grey Literature

Grey Literature is

“…information produced on all levels of government, academia, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.”

Schnopfel J. Towards a Prague definition of grey literature. Presented at: Twelfth International Conference on Grey Literature: Transparency in Grey Literature. Grey Tech Approaches to High Tech Issues. Prague, 6-7 Dec 2010, Czech Republic. pp.11-26. Available from:

It can be used to supplement books and journals when conducting research as it provides a different perspective and is commonly more current than different materials.

Examples of Grey Literature include:

  • conference papers and proceedings
  • government and policy documents
  • technical reports

and many more which you can find here.

Grey Literature

  • Conference proceedings are collections of papers or collections of abstracts of papers presented at local, national or international conferences, meetings, congresses, symposia, seminars, workshops or colloquia
  • Conference papers are a rapid means of communicating new research to a wide audience of scientists. Not all papers presented at conference are published, or may only be published as abstracts
  • are issued by various national, provincial, local and regional governments and by international intergovernmental organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • appear in a number of formats (paper, electronic, microform)
  • deal with topics relevant to many fields of study and provide context and background knowledge on a topic
  • "A technical reports is a document which gives the results or the progress of a research and/or development investigation. Where appropriate it draws conclusions and makes recommendations, and is initially submitted to the person or body for whom the work was carried out. Commonly a report bears a number which identifies both the report and the issuing organization."

(C.P. Auger, Information Sources in Grey Literature, 2nd ed., London: Bowker, 1989, p.8)

Confirming Scholarly Research

Confirming Scholarly Research

There are a few different ways for you to confirm the academic nature of the book or article that you are interested in:

Ulrich's Web

Contains bibliographic descriptions and ordering information for approximately 300,000 periodicals (also known as serials) including scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers. Information includes publisher, country of publication, format, whether active or ceased, start year, frequency, document type, refereed/peer reviewed status, reviews as well as abstracting, indexing and full text database coverage.

To use Ulrich's Web:

  • go to our Ulrichsweb page, and click on the title Ulrichsweb to connect
  • at Ulrichsweb type the publication title into the text box and click Search
  • find your publication title in the resulting list, and click its title to see the details
  • if your title is academic/scholarly, the Basic Description section will include a line that says: "Content Type:Academic/Scholarly"
  • if your title is peer-reviewed/refereed, the description will include a line that says: "Refereed: Yes".
  • referee shirt icon will also display in the Basic Description and in the search results list, if the title is peer-reviewed

Book Reviews

The best place to begin a search for a scholarly book review is the Book Review Index (1965 to present). This database indexes more than 600 journals ranging from general interest magazines such as Newsweek to scholarly journals like the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Scholarly reviews of older titles may be found in the Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Scholarly Journals (1886-1974). This publication indexes more than 450 journals in history, political science and sociology. Another collection of scholarly and general book reviews can be found in the Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Humanities Journals (1802-1974).

Publisher's Website

The publisher's website is useful for gaining information on the review process of a scholarly journal or academic book. The website will include information about the editorial review process as well as the editorial board for a specific journal.

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