Scholarly vs. Popular materials

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

The word "periodical" refers to magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals. Newspapers and popular magazines like People, or Road and Track, are familiar to everyone. Scholarly journals (also called academic, professional, or peer-reviewed journals), are written by experts for other experts. They are considered more authoritative than most other sources, because each article is written by experts and reviewed by a panel of experts from the same field before publication. In-depth research will usually require you to find scholarly journal articles on your subject.

Popular magazinesScholarly journals
Use everyday languageUse technical language
Written for the general readerWritten for experts by other experts
Do not include references to sources of information used to write the articleInclude a list of references at the end of the article
Are often colorful and designed to attract attentionOften have dull covers and titles like "Journal of ...," "Proceedings of ..."


Many of the Gale databases have a check-off option for scholarly ("peer-reviewed") journals, making it easy to limit your search to peer-reviewed publications.

picture of Gale Search Screen

Education Full text has a similar "peer-reviewed" option. The ScienceDirect interface does not have such a checkoff option, but apart from the magazine New Scientist, the articles found on ScienceDirect are scholarly.

Scholarly or specialized books

The same general characteristics apply to scholarly books: they use technical language, are written by experts for experts, and employ "scholarly apparatus" such as detailed references giving the sources of information used. There are also books which, although they are not "scholarly" in the same sense, are highly specialized, and are intended for a reader in a specific field. (An example is Safe operation of fire tankers, published by the U.S. Fire Administration.)

There is no "checkoff" option in the catalog to determine scholarly/popular status. In general, you must look at the book, examine its language, and determine its intended audience in order to determine whether it is popular or scholarly/field specific.

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Updated: 12 March 2012