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Introduction to Literary Studies: Scholary or Popular?

Databases vs. Websites

What is the difference between articles found through library databases and articles found on the web?

  • Library databases are evaluated by subject experts and many of the articles come from peer-reviewed journals.
  • Web sites can be created by any one and the information may be hard to evaluate or verify.

Evaluating Books

Here are some elements to help you determine that a book is a scholarly source:

  1. Author- Is the author affiliated with an academic institution? Professors are often experts in their field.
  2. Publisher- Is the publisher a university press such as Oxford University Press? University presses usually publish scholarly works.
  3. Bibliography & Index- Does the book have an extensive bibliography (works cited) and index?
  4. Content of the book- is the content scholarly, up to date and correct?
  5. Finally, go find the book- look at the table of contents, sources included, and decide if this is the right source for your paper. It's up to you to decide!

Scholarly vs Popular

CriteriaScholarly JournalPopular MagazineTrade Magazine/Journal
The Journal of Biological Chemistry
Time magazine
Publisher's Weekly
Content (Accuracy) In-depth, primary account of original findings written by the researcher(s); very specific information, with the goal of scholarly communication. Secondary discussion of someone else's research; may include personal narrative or opinion; general information, purpose is to entertain or inform. Current news, trends and products in a specific industry; practical information for professionals working in the field or industry.
Author (Authority) Author's credentials are provided; usually a scholar or specialist with subject expertise. Author is frequently a journalist paid to write articles, may or may not have subject expertise. Author is usually a professional in the field, sometimes a journalist with subject expertise.
Audience (Coverage) Scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist. Professionals in the field; the interested non-specialist.
Language (Coverage) Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area. Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers. Specialized terminology or jargon of the field, but not as technical as a scholarly journal.
Graphics (Coverage) Graphs, charts, and tables; very few advertisements and photographs. Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs. Photographs; some graphics and charts; advertisements targeted to professionals in the field.
Layout & Organization (Currency) Structured; includes the article abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography. Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion. Informal; articles organized like a journal or a newsletter. Evidence drawn from personal experience or common knowledge.
Accountability (Objectivity) 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. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff who may be experts in the field, not peer-reviewed*; edited for format and style.
References (Objectivity) Required. Quotes and facts are verifiable. Rare. Little, if any, information about source materials is given. Occasional brief bibliographies, but not required.
Paging Page numbers are consecutive throughout the volume. Each issue begins with page 1. Each issue begins with page 1.
Other Examples
Scholarly Journal
Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, History of Education Quarterly, Almost anything with Journal in the title.
Popular Magazine
Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Ladies Home Journal, Cooking Light, Discover
Trade Magazine/Journal
Architectural Record, PC World, Restaurant Business, American Libraries, Psychology Today, School Band and Orch


Based on Scholarly vs. Popular Materials by Amy VanScoy, NCSU Library


Humanities Librarian

Leslie Madden's picture
Leslie Madden
Library South
Suite 542