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Research Skills for First-Year Seminars (FSEMs): ⭐ Popular / Scholarly


⭐ This page is required for all FSEM students ⭐

Popular / Scholarly

Information from experts is more valuable than information from non-experts. This is one reason why professors ask you to cite scholarly sources instead of popular sources.

What's the difference?

  • Scholarly sources are written by scholars for scholars. These are sources written by experts in a given field.
    • Examples: Journal articles, some books.
  • Popular sources are written by non-experts. These are sources the general public can understand.
    • Examples: News reports, news analyses, opinion pieces, magazine articles, interviews, photographs, novels, poems, letters, some books.

The most common scholarly source is an article published in a journal. Journals are similar to magazines in that they are published in issues. Each issue contains articles, and new issues are published periodically. However, journals are scholarly sources, and magazines are popular sources.

Most journals are peer-reviewed, which means that the articles and information have been double-checked by other experts. The peer-review process is how journals ensure that their articles are high-quality. Magazines are not peer-reviewed. See here for more information about journals and peer review.

Use these guidelines to tell the difference between journals and magazines:


Research results, reviews of research 

Example of a journal article (PDF)

News and general interest articles 

Example of a magazine article (PDF)

Audience Scholars, researchers, professionals General public
Authors Subject experts, faculty, scientists Journalists, freelance writers
Purpose To share research or scholarship To inform, entertain, or elicit an emotional response
Review Process Editorial board, Peer-reviewed (subject experts) Staff editors, not subject experts
Language Specialized terminology or jargon of the field Easily understandable to most readers
References Bibliographies, footnotes, endnotes No bibliographies
Advertisements Few or none Many
Frequency Quarterly or semi-annual Weekly or monthly
Length Tend to be long Tend to be short
Examples journal


Video: Popular / Scholarly

Watch this video from the University of Houston Libraries for an overview of the differences between scholarly and popular sources.

Citing popular sources

Is it ever okay to cite a popular source?

Yes, in one particular way: Popular sources can provide evidence for you to analyze.

For example...

  • You're studying the space race in the Cold War, and you need evidence of the ways John F. Kennedy communicated with the American public. So, you cite his famous "We choose to go to the Moon" speech, and analyze what it means.
  • You're studying themes of class conflict in the film Parasite, which was directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho. You need evidence of Bong's directorial intentions. So, you cite an interview with him, and analyze what it means.
  • You're studying the spread of memes in social media. You need evidence of a well-known meme, so you cite the YouTube video of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" and analyze it in the context of the Rickrolling meme.

When you use a popular source in this way, you're using it as a primary source. Click here for more information about primary sources.