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How to Research: Identify Scholarly Sources

Just getting started on a research paper or project? Don't know where to start? This is the guide for you!

Identify Scholarly Sources

If you are able to recognize the differences between a popular and scholarly source, you can focus your research to retrieve only the type of information you need.

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources








  • Written by researchers, professionals, or experts in the field
  • Author's credentials (e.g. MD, PhD) are listed
  • Written by journalists, reporters, freelance writers, and other paid staff


  • Advanced reading level
  • Researchers, students, academics, and professionals
  • Basic reading level
  • General public

Language & Length

  • Specialized or technical vocabulary
  • Topic is narrowly focused and research-based
  • Long articles: 5+ pages
  • Language is understood by almost anyone
  • General/popular interest topics and news items
  • Short articles: 1/2 - 5 pages

Review Process

  • "Peer-reviewed" or "refereed" articles are screened and approved by other researchers and experts in the field
  • Articles are reviewed and approved for publication by the magazine or journal's editor


  • Often includes Abstract, Methodology, Discussion, Summary, Charts, Conclusion
  • Limited or no advertising
  • No set format
  • Attention-grabbing headlines
  • Lots of advertising
  • Photos


  • Scientific, medical, and research institutions, libraries
  • Online and in print
  • Grocery stores, newsstands, bookstores
  • Online and in print

Citations & Bibliography

  • Extensive bibliography and citations/references throughout
  • Sources can be verified
  • Rarely any citations/references
  • Difficult to verify source of information


  • Journal of Botany, Journal of Canadian Studies, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Educational & Child Psychology
  • Alberta Venture, Maclean's, The Walrus, Popular Science, People, Where Calgary

Adapted from: Lucy Scribner Library. (2010). Scholarly vs. popular periodicals. Retrieved from

Adapted from: Nevada University Libraries. (2010). Distinguishing scholarly and popular articles. Retrieved from

Online Tutorial

Video: What is a Scholarly Article?