Scholarly and Popular Sources

In the research process, it is critical to understand and recognize the difference between scholarly information sources and "popular" information sources. I need to

  • recognize scholarly sources
  • recognize popular sources
  • understand what my professor means by “peer-reviewed” sources
  • learn how to search databases for peer-reviewed sources

Recognizing scholarly sources

In general, scholary sources tend to be...

  • written for an audience of specialists
  • written using a specialized vocabulary
  • longer articles providing in-depth analysis
  • more structured, and may includes sections such as the Abstract, Literature Review, and Conclusion
  • reviewed and edited by experts in the field
  • illustrated with tables, charts, or graphs

Recognizing popular sources

In general popular sources tend to be...

  • written for a general audience
  • written using non-technical language anyone can understand
  • shorter articles offering a broader overview
  • without a formal structure
  • reviewed and edited by staff writers, not necessarily experts in the field
  • illustrated with color photographs, often for the purpose of advertising


What is "peer review"?

Peer Review is the process by which an article is evaluated by a group of specialists in its given field prior to being "accepted" for publication.

For example, The Quarterly Review of Biology is peer-reviewed. Newsweek is not peer-reviewed.

Typically, if your professor refers to scholarly, academic, or refereed journals, he or she is referring to journals that are peer-reviewed.

Many indexes and databases include a field in which the journal's scholarly or peer-review status is defined.

For example, look at the following article citation.  You'll see that The Journal of the Early Republic is clearly classified as peer-reviewed.

Searching for scholarly articles using databases

A number of the databases available through the Grinnell College Libraries allow you to limit your searches strictly to peer-reviewed or scholarly articles. For example, in the database Academic Search Premier, simply check off the "Peer Reviewed" box before entering a search.

Please remember that the librarians at Burling Library and Kistle Science Library are happy to assist you in locating and identifying appropriate journal articles.