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Social Work 7300: Methods of Community Research

Scholarly, Trade, and Popular Sources

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.

It is important to understand the difference between a popular and a scholarly periodical. When you are doing research, most of your sources should be scholarly.

For your single system design research project, you must find scholarly sources. Newspapers and magazine are all popular in nature, meaning they are aimed at a general, rather than a scholarly audience. Remember, some "popular" sources are more credible than others.


This guide will help you understand the differences between popular and scholarly publications.

Criteria Popular Magazine Scholarly Journal


Content Secondary discussion of someone else's research; may include personal narrative or opinion; general information, purpose is to entertain or inform. In-depth, primary account of original findings written by the researcher(s) or reviews of original research; very specific information, with the goal of scholarly communication.
Author Author is frequently a journalist paid to write articles, may or may not have subject expertise. Author's credentials are provided; usually a scholar or specialist with subject expertise.
Audience General public; the interested non-specialist. Scholars, researchers, and students.
Language Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers. Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area.
Graphics Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs. Graphs, charts, and tables; relatively  few advertisements and glossy photographs.
Layout & Organization Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion. Structured; includes the article abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography.
Accountability Articles are evaluated by editorial staff, not experts in the field; edited for format and style. Articles are evaluated by peer-reviewers* or referees who are experts in the field; edited for content, format, and style.
References Rare. Little, if any, information about source materials is given. Required. Quotes and facts are verifiable.
Paging Each issue begins with page 1. Page numbers are generally consecutive throughout the volume.


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

Evaluating online sources

Evaluating online sources is more challenging because physical factors like graphics are absent.  Some databases allow you to narrow your search to only scholarly periodicals so you can be sure what kind of results you're getting.  If you're not sure, you can also search the Ulrichsweb database for the journal.  Ulrichsweb will list the Document Type as Academic/Scholarly, Trade or Consumer (Popular).

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