F&M College Library

SPA 417: Tell Me a Story

Scholarly vs. Popular

Scholarly materials are written by and for faculty, researchers or scholars using scholarly or technical language, include full citations for sources. Scholarly items are often refereed or peer reviewed. Book reviews and editorials are not considered scholarly articles, even when found in scholarly journals.

Popular materials are often written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience using language easily understood by general readers. Popular items rarely give full citations for sources, are written for the general public, and tend to be shorter than scholarly materials.

Identifying a source as scholarly or popular can often be tricky. Here are some things to look for, but keep in mind that not all of these must be true in order to make a source scholarly or popular. Sometimes elements overlap in both, but this is a good start to determining credibility. 

Scholarly Source Popular Source

Newspaper or magazine article

Written by an expert in the field

Article displays advertisements
Contains the elements of an academic article (abstract, introduction, etc) Written by a reporter or journalist
Includes references to other scholarly articles or data sets Contains cited sources

If you are still unsure if a source is credible (i.e whether scholarly or popular), remember to: 

  • Research the author
    • Has the author written other books or articles? 
    • Does the author have any expertise/a lot of expertise in their field? 
  • Research the publication and look at their "About" page
    • Does the page indicate if the publication is peer-reviewed? 
    • Does the publication have any major bias as determined by outside sources? 

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