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BIO 101 Labs (Alexandria)

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Characteristics of Scholarly and Popular Sources

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

For your assignment...

Once you have found your two articles (one that's more popular, one that's more scholarly), you will compare characteristics of those two articles:

(just pick 3 for this assignment)


Author credentials

What are the qualifications of the authors to write these articles?  What are their educational credentials and affiliations?  What experience do they have writing about this topic?


Who is the intended audience?  Consider language/jargon, concepts.


Describe any references or works cited, including the amount of references, type of references, where in the article the references are provided.


 Identify the publisher and any relevant information about the publisher.


 Why was the article written?


Is it peer reviewed?  Or basic editing?  How do you know?

Characteristics of Scholarly & Popular Sources - More Details

To determine how scholarly a source is, look at these characteristics  (to learn more about each, click on the square icons):

Author Credentials

Author credentials can be:

Most scholarly - expert with advanced degree (e.g., Ph.D., M.D., J.D.) in relevant subject

Mid-level - journalist, some academic credentials (e.g., B.A., B.S., M.A.) in relevant subject

Least scholarly - no credentials, no academic degree or experience in the subject


The target audience can be:

Most scholarly - other experts, professionals, or scholars in that subject area

Mid-level - general public

Least scholarly - general public, elementary, middle school students


References can be:

Most scholarly - extensive list of scholarly sources

Mid-level - list of credible/reliable sources; sources mentioned in the text

Low-level - no references


The publisher can be:

Most scholarly - a university, professional, or academic press; for example: Oxford University Press, American Psychological Association, Elsevier

Mid-level - reputable book publisher, magazine, or newspaper

Least scholarly - self-published/vanity press

Learn about publishers by visiting their websites and looking in the "About" section.


Editing and review can be:

Most Scholarly - the author's peers (experts in a subject area) critically evaluate all aspects of the work; this is called Peer Review.  It can also be called Refereed.

Mid-level - Substantive editing, for content, structure

Low-level - proofreading or copy editing for grammar, spelling, and capitalization

Least Scholarly - no editing or review


The purpose can be:

Most scholarly - to inform or educate about a specific topic or to describe a research study; should be objective (it may support a particular side, but with documentation and fair consideration of the other side)

Mid-level - to inform or educate about a topic, event, or issue; might be biased

Least scholarly - to entertain, to sell you something; might be biased

All images are in the public domain or under Creative Commons licenses. 

Scholarly Scale

How Scholarly?

Sources of information can range from being not scholarly, to very scholarly, to somewhere in the middle.  Each source will go somewhere on this scale.  Use the characteristics described above to determine where a source falls on the scale.

0  |---------------------------------------------------5--------------------------------------------------|  10
Least Scholarly              
e.g., entertainment,
childrens' books
Sources that are not as scholarly, but
still credible, include popular periodicals
such as magazines and newspapers.
            Most Scholarly
Scholarly sources typically
include academic journal articles.


Video: Scholarly and Popular Sources (from McMaster University Library)