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BIOL 100 Survey of Biology (O'Reilly): Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

What are scholarly and popular sources?

Periodicals = anything that is published on a regular (periodic) basis.

can be broken down into groups, such as:

  • newspapers (usually published daily)
  • popular magazines (often published weekly or monthly)
  • scholarly journals (usually published monthly, every other month, quarterly, or twice a year)

Scholarly journals 

  • are focused on an academic discipline such as history or nursing
  • are usually written by and for scholars, researchers, and professionals
  • include lengthy articles that often describe research studies
  • are usually peer-reviewed, which means a group of scholars review articles before they are published in the journal
  • are not flashy and don't usually includes photos and advertisements

Popular magazines

  • are usually written by journalists for the general public
  • include articles that are often short and cover a wide range of topics
  • are flashy, glossy, and include many photos and advertisements in order to attract attention

Identifying Scholarly Articles

It can be more difficult to identify scholarly journals when they're online. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Usually, the author's credentials will be listed somewhere (often on the first page of the article), and they should show that the author is a professional in the discipline.
  2. The article title is often long and descriptive, giving a clear idea of what the article is about.
  3. The article itself may be quite long (more than 7 pages).
  4. The article is written in scholarly, discipline-specific language.
  5. The article may present a research study which includes sections describing methodology, results, discussion, and a conclusion.
  6. There will likely be a long Bibliography or References list at the end of the article.
  7. The word "journal," "quarterly," or "review" is in the periodical's title. This by itself does not make the article scholarly, but along with the criteria above, it is another clue.

Research vs. Review Articles

A research article is a primary source, meaning that it reports on original research done by the authors of the article. Research articles normally include the following parts:

  • Introduction -- explains the reason for the research and discusses similar research studies.
  • Methods -- description of how the research was completed.
  • Results -- usually includes chart, data, and text explaining the outcomes of the research.
  • Discussion -- authors interpret the results and why they're important.
  • References or Works Cited -- research studies always include a list of references.


A review article is a secondary source, meaning that it discusses other articles and doesn't report original research. Review articles are a great way to get an overview of research being done.

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