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*Religious Studies: Subject Guide: Scholarly vs. Popular Articles

Search tips and research resources for topics in religious studies.

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals

"Periodical" is a term used to describe any publication that is published multiple times (periodically). Periodicals include materials such as popular magazines, scholarly journals, and newspapers.

When conducting research it is important to distinguish between journal articles and magazine articles. Journal articles are typically referred to as "scholarly," while magazine articles are usually considered "popular". A third category, "trade" magazines or journals, are written for professionals in a particular field but are not strictly research related. When you are doing research, most of your sources should be scholarly.

Below are additional criteria to consider when differentiating between journals and magazines.

Criteria Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine Trade Magazine/Journal
Time magazine
  Content 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 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 Scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist. Professionals in the field; the interested non-specialist.
  Language 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 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 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 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 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 Journals
Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, History of Education Quarterly, Almost anything with Journal in the title.
Popular Magazines
Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Ladies Home Journal, Cooking Light, Discover
Trade Magazines/Journals
Architectural Record, PC World, Restaurant Business, American Libraries, Psychology Today, School Band and Orchestra

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

Determining Scholarly Sources

What is a scholarly source?

Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed) are written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news. These resources will provide the most substantial information for your research and papers

Why use scholarly sources?

The authority and credibility evident in scholarly sources will contribute a great deal to the overall quality of your papers. Use of scholarly sources is an expected attribute of academic course work.

How can I tell if a source is scholarly?

The following characteristics can help you differentiate scholarly sources from those that are not. Be sure and look at the criteria in each category when making your determination, rather than basing your decision on only one criteria.


  • Authors will be scholars or experts in their field and not paid journalists.
  • Authors’ educational credentials and university and/or research affiliation are almost always provided in the book or article.


  • In academic publishing, the goal of peer review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal.
  • Before an article can be published in a peer reviewed journal, the article is evaluated by an editorial board of scholars (peer reviewers) in the discipline.
    • The peer reviewers check the manuscript for accuracy and assess the validity of the research methodology and procedures.
    • If the article is deemed appropriate for the journal, the article will either be published as submitted, or the peer reviewers may suggest that the author make revisions before the article will be published. If the reviewers find the article lacking in scholarly validity and rigor, they reject it.
  • Because a peer reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer reviewed articles that are accepted for publication exemplify the best research practices in a field.
  • Newspaper, magazine, and web articles do not undergo this process.
  • Books,for the most part, are not peer reviewed. To evaluate whether a book is a credible source,  you will need to rely on the credentials of the author (university/research affiliation) and the publisher.


  • Scholarly sources are published by university presses, scholarly societies or professional organizations. Examples: Oxford University Press, Duke University Press, American Academy of Religion, American Association of Political Science, etc.
  • Having said that, there are also  trade publishers that publish books on scholarly topics, such as: Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, Harper Collins. In this case you would need to check the credentials of the author (do a Google Search to determine their university affiliation) in order to determine whether the work is scholarly or not.


  • The intended audience will be other scholars and not the general public.
  • The language in which a book or article is written will be technical and aimed at those with knowledge of a specific discipline or subject area.


  • The content's purpose will be to inform or educate other scholars on the most recent research in the field.
  • Conclusions or claims made in a scholarly source will be based on evidence and not personal opinion. The information will be unbiased.
  • The sources used to write the work will be cited.
    • Look for a bibliography, a reference list, or footnotes. Keep in mind, though, that the presence of a bibliography, reference list or footnotes does not alone mean that the work is scholarly or credible. You would still need to check the author's credentials/affiliation and the publisher, as well as the content.