4.12 Evaluating What You Found: Scholarly or Popular?

In Chapter 2 we talked about evaluating web resources, but these aren’t the only resources you need to evaluate. When you find articles using indexes or Quick Search, you’ll still need to determine whether they should be used for your assignment. You’ll want to consider:

  • Whether the article fits your topic. Don’t just settle for the first results you find – make sure they’re going to support or add to your research.
  • What type of article you’ve found. For example, your professors may tell you to find scholarly peer-reviewed articles, as opposed to popular articles.

Scholarly or Popular

Popular publications are written for the general public rather than for scholarly audiences. Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, InStyle, Vogue, Discover, and Rolling Stone are examples of popular publications. These sources can be good if your topic has to do with recent events, popular culture, or hobbies.

Scholarly resources focus on communicating complex ideas and research to the scholarly community, rather than being written for the general public. These usually focus on a specific subject area. Journals like the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Advances in Textiles Technology, Journal of Environmental Engineering, and Latin American Music Review are examples of scholarly publications.

Check with your professors before using popular materials for course projects. They may expect you to exclusively use scholarly sources.

How can you tell if something is scholarly or popular?

When you find an article, you’ll want to verify two things: whether it fits with your research and whether the material is popular or scholarly. You can’t tell by the journal or magazine name alone whether something is scholarly or popular, and you can’t depend on the word “journal” being an indicator of scholarly work. For example, Science, one of the world’s top scholarly science publications, is sometimes referred to as a magazine. The chart below lists some criteria to help you distinguish between popular and scholarly publications.

Popular Scholarly
can often be found at local stores and public libraries found in research libraries, indexes, and journal websites; sometimes found at campus bookstores
articles are proofread and copyedited but not peer-reviewed articles are peer-reviewed by several subject experts as well as proofread and copyedited
articles are short and often not signed; when signed, author credentials are usually missing articles are longer and in-depth; author credentials and contact information are clearly listed
often no citations, footnotes, references, or bibliographies requires thorough citations, footnotes, and references be included
written for general public; language is clear, simple and direct written for specialists in the field; language is scholarly and often complex
most articles are illustrated with photographs; online versions often have videos most illustrations are charts, graphs, or other ways to present data
include advertisements for commercial products of all kinds if present, advertising focuses on publishing, professional societies, and conferences tied to the journal topic


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