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Basic Research Help: Scholarly or Popular Source?

How to Tell the Difference & Why it Matters

Most fields of study recognize a number of scholarly (also known as peer-reviewed) journals. These "magazines" reflect high standards of quality and objectivity, and are published specifically for the purpose of serious academic research. These journals are ideal as references for academic work.

Popular magazines, on the other hand, are usually geared toward a general audience with less emphasis on research and objectivity. More emphasis is typically placed on entertainment, general information, and buying the commercial products advertised. Evaluate these types of sources carefully when citing them in an academic setting.  Are they credible enough?


  Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals Popular Magazines
Author Usually an expert or specialist in a field or discipline, and his/her name and credentials are usually provided; often the author is not part of the publication's permanent staff Usually a staff writer or a freelance journalist; her/his name and credentials are often not provided
Publication Title Titles or subtitles often include the words journal, review, research, bulletin or annals Usually short, sometimes "flashy", e.g. Mother Jones or Sports Illustrated
Language Written in the jargon of the field and generally target specific readers (professors, researchers, students) Written in non-technical language and can be understood by the general public
Peer Review Articles are usually reviewed, critically evaluated, and selected by a board of experts in the field Articles are not usually evaluated by experts in the field, but by editors on staff
Format Usually more structured; may include sections such as abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography/works cited Do not necessarily follow a specific format or structure
Illustrations & Layout Frequently contain illustrations that support the assertions within the text: photographs or drawings, tables of statistics, graphs or maps Generally have many illustrations with glossy or color photographs, as well as many color illustrations used for advertising purposes
Length Generally longer articles designed to offer in-depth analyses of topics Usually shorter articles that offer broader overviews of topics
Bibliography Almost always contains a bibliography (or list of "works cited") and/or footnotes designed to document research thoroughly A bibliography ("works cited" list) is usually not provided, although names of reports or references may be mentioned in the text
Advertising Little or no advertising; may appear in one section and include job notices and conference announcements Advertising throughout publication; often over 50% of the publication is advertising
Examples Journal of Abnormal Psychology
African American Review
Science Education
Review of International Studies
Psychology Today
Science Teacher

Table adapted from Bloomfield College Library's Information Gateway: Journal tutorial.

How to Find Scholarly Articles

Many article databases allow you to limit your search results. Look for a checkbox labeled "Peer Reviewed" or "Scholarly."

Is that Journal Peer Reviewed?

To check if a publication is peer-reviewed, see the FAQ, How can I tell if an article is from a scholarly or peer-reviewed source?