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Last Updated: Mar 30, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Scholarly vs. Popular Print Page

Distinguishing Scholarly from Popular Journals - Print

Periodicals can be classified broadly into several categories: scholarly, trade publications, substantive news and popular. Professors often require that you use scholarly periodicals for your research papers.  Here is a chart to help determine the level of scholarship for a particular periodical.

 ScholarlyTradeSubstantive NewsPopular
Appearance Appears sober and serious.
May have charts or graphs. Few pictures.

←  →

Attractive, glossy or newspaper  format. Looks glossy and colorful, with lots of photos and illustrations.
Audience Targets scholars/ students in a particular field. Targets professionals. Aims for a general readership. Aims for a general readership.
Author Scholars or researchers often associated with a university.


Staff writer or
scholar or
free lance writer.
Staff writer or
 free lance writer who writes on many topics.
Language Ranges from plodding and pretentious to lucid. Jargon or technical language may be used. Geared to any literate audience. Simple language.
Purpose Reports on original research or presents
critical analysis.


Provides general news.
Gives brief updates in a specific field.
Entertains reader.
Sell products.
 Promotes a viewpoint.
Sources Cited Always cited in notes or bibliographies

←    →

Sometimes vaguely referred to. Rarely cited.
Advertising If any, usually book reviews or job announcements.


Promotes a variety of products and services. Promotes a variety of products and services.
Publishers Most sponsored by professional organizations or academic presses.


Usually produced commercially. Usually produced commercially.
Indexing Indexed in subject-specific sources such as Social Sciences Index, ERIC.


Indexed in general indexes like WilsonSelect, Reader’s Guide. Indexed in general indexes like WilsonSelect, Reader’s Guide.

Distinguishing Scholarly from Popular Journals - Electronic

In EBSCO databases like Academic Search Complete, on the main search page, “Limit your results” by checking Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journals.

If your database does not have that feature, check the full text article for the following characteristics:

  • A works cited or bibliography section
  • The article reports on original research, reviews the literature, or presents a critical analysis of a topic
  • A note that the author is a researcher or scholar, usually associated with a university
  • High level of language/jargon
  • Charts or graphs to support the text

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