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Race, Ethnicity, and Politics (32-304-03) -- Guide to Library Resources: Scholarly vs Popular

Characteristics of scholarly journals versus popular magazines




How can you tell the difference
between these two types of
periodical articles?

Journal of Research in Personality


Longer articles, providing
in-depth analysis of topics

Shorter articles, providing
broader overviews of topics


Author usually an expert or specialist in the field, name and credentials always provided

Author usually a staff writer or a journalist, name and credentials often not provided


Written in the specialized language of the field for scholarly readers (professors, researchers or students)

Written in non-technical language for anyone to understand


Articles usually more structured, may include these sections: abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography

Articles do not necessarily follow a specific format or structure

Special Features

Illustrations that support the text, such as tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs

Illustrations with glossy or color photographs, usually for advertising purposes


Articles usually reviewed and critically evaluated by a board of experts in the field (refereed)

Articles are not evaluated by experts in the field, but by editors on staff


A bibliography (works cited) and/or footnotes are always provided to document research thoroughly

A bibliography (works cited) is usually not provided, although names of reports or references may be mentioned in the text

 This table courtesy of the University of Texas San Antonio Library.

More tips

Many of our databases, including Academic Search Complete, allow you to refine your search to limit results to scholarly (also called peer-reviewed or refereed) articles. Some others, for example JSTOR and Project Muse, contain only scholarly material.

Depending on the nature of your research, both scholarly journals and popular magazines can be valuable sources.

Examples of a popular and a scholarly article on hate:

Popular: Monteith, Margo. "Why We Hate." Psychology Today 35.3 (2002): 44. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 22 June 2011.

Scholarly: Meddaugh, Priscilla Marie. "Hate Speech or "Reasonable Racism:" The Other in Stormfront. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 24.4 (2009): 251-268. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 22 June 2011.

If you are unable to find enough information to determine if a journal is scholarly, ask a librarian for help.

Another look at scholarly vs popular

Scholarly journals have articles written by researchers who are considered experts in a field. These journals are also known as "peer-reviewed," "refereed" or "academic" journals.  Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is a scholarly journal. Popular magazines have articles written by generalists or journalists. Time or Newsweek are examples of popular journals.