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BIO 142: Case Study Research (Alexandria)

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What are Popular and Scholarly Sources?

There are many sources of information, including websites, books, magazines, journals, newspapers, and friends. 
Different kinds of sources are intended for different audiences and purposes, so which sources you use depends on your needs.
Generally, sources fall on a spectrum between popular and scholarly.

Popular Sources
Time magazine cover newspaper
Scholarly Sources

Reporters, journalists, professionals, company employees, or anyone

Experts, researchers
Written for:
General public
Written for:
Other experts and researchers
Newspaper, magazine,non-academic publisher or website
University, academic press, sometimes government
General language
Advanced, technical, scholarly
To inform, entertain, convince, market, or sell
To report research findings, build on the academic literature
Basic editing
Reviewed by other experts (peer review)
Not usually, though studies or other sources may be mentioned
Yes; look for footnotes or a list of sources at the end of the article.

Use the characteristics described above to determine if a source is more Popular or more Scholarly.
Popular and scholarly continuum

Only a source that has ALL the characteristics described in the "Scholarly Sources" column above would go on the Scholarly end of the scale.
If a source only has SOME of the characteristics listed under "Scholarly Sources", it would go somewhere in the middle of the scale.

Do I Need Popular Sources or Scholarly Sources?

Okay, so which is better - popular or scholarly?

You will often need both scholarly and popular sources in your research, because each type has its own strengths and weaknesses.

  Popular Scholarly
  • Good overview of a broad issue.
  • Best source for current events.
  • In-depth analysis of a very specific issue.
  • Highest quality information with minimum bias.
  • Basic editing and fact-checking.
  • Some have questionable quality and potential for bias.
  • Requires more time for you to critically evaluate for trustworthiness.
  • Typically longer and more difficult to read due to technical language and advanced concepts.
  • Publication is slower than popular sources because of the in-depth review process, which can take months.  You will not find scholarly articles about current events as they are unfolding.
When to Use
  • When you are just beginning your research and need background info and basic facts, or when you need current information.
  • When you already know a lot about your topic and want in-depth, authoritative information.

More advanced, subject-focused classes (biology, psychology, sociology, literature...) may require you to use only scholarly sources, so read the assignment instructions.

Scholarly articles are not always better than popular ones.  Sometimes a newspaper or magazine will serve you better than a peer-reviewed article.  To make the best use of sources, take the time to evaluate them and determine whether they are truly useful for you.  You should be able to explain why you used a particular source and what it contributed to your research project.

What Does Peer Review Mean?

Many scholarly journals use a process called peer review.

  • Before an article can be published in a peer reviewed journal, the journal requires that other scholars and experts in the author's field (the author's peers) critically evaluate the article.
  • Peer review is a kind of quality control process to help ensure that the article represents the best scholarship available.