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Scholarly or Popular? Information Literacy Guide

Learn to distinguish between scholarly / popular information sources

Scholarly Journals & Popular Magazines: Information Literacy Guide

How can you easily know the differences between a scholarly journal and a popular magazine? 


  • Research articles list authors clearly and prominently and include author credentials (degrees, positions, etc.)
  • Research article authors are often clearly affiliated with academic or research institutions
  • Research articles typically give an way for readers to contact authors at their institution or academic department
  • Popular magazine articles are often unsigned, rarely indicate author credentials, and almost never include a specific address for contacting the author



  • Scholarly journal articles indicate sources of information used within the article
  • Scholarly journal articles almost always include footnotes, endnotes, or citations
  • Popular magazine articles rarely use formal footnotes or reference lists. They may attribute sources in a more indirect or less formal manner, or not at all


  • Scholarly articles are typically are written for experts in the field - those who already know quite a bit about the topic and its development
  • The writing style of scholarly articles may be technical and detailed, and use specialized vocabulary 
  • Scholarly research articles are often long and complex
  • Scholarly publications do not include a lot of advertisements for consumer products; ads are limited to scholarly or academic products and services
  • Popular articles usually focus on entertainment, news, or general awareness on an issue; writing style is usually direct and easy to understand


  • Scholarly journals prominently list their editors or editorial board, and the academic or institutional affiliations of those people
  • Scholarly publications will often specifically label themselves as a "peer reviewed" journal - this means scholarly subject experts review and critique each article submission before it's accepted for publication
  • Scholarly journals often specify a certain style guide or other rules to follow for those wanting to submit a paper
  • Scholarly journals are often published by an academic institution or scholarly association
  • Popular magazines rarely highlight or comment on their editorial review process



  • Scholarly journals are typically found in research library collections; they may sometimes be found for sale in larger academic bookstores
  • Popular magazines may be found for sale in grocery stores, discount stores, newsstands, and bookstores
  • Public libraries often collect a great variety of popular magazines, but typically collect fewer scholarly research journals



  • Popular magazines are typically published very frequently, as often as weekly or monthly 
  • Scholarly journals are typically released only a few times per year
  • The peer-review editorial process adds to the publication timeline of scholarly journals and the articles they publish - it takes longer to critique and review submitted articles before they are published



  • Visual appeal is a strong hint about the audience the publication seeks and the purpose of the publication
  • Scholarly journals for most fields tend to be text-based (except fields such as art and design)
  • Front covers of scholarly journals often list contents, authors, or may feature a simple design repeated for each issue; contents are listed to attract intellectual / scholarly research interest
  • Popular magazines usually feature eye-catching front covers; glossy photographs of celebrities or models; contents may be described in a commercial or exaggerated manner meant to attract attention and promote sales

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