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Evaluating Sources

Scholarly vs. Professional vs. Popular Sources

During your research you'll encounter many different kinds of journal (or serial) publications. Some are more suited to a certain project than others; for example, when writing a research paper, you will need to consult scholarly journals. Other journals may be useful, too. For example, a popular source might give you insight into what people are thinking about a given subject right now. The key is to be able to identify what type of source you're looking at and use it accordingly. Check out this table to learn some key differences between these three common types of journal publications.


  Scholarly (or Academic) Professional (or Trade) Popular
Purpose These sources are intended to inform about research done by the authors. Scholarly sources represent original research or experimentation by a trained scholar in a given field. Professional or trade sources are designed to comment on recent developments, challenges, and trends in a professional field. Popular sources are made for a vast array of reasons; from entertainment, to marketing, to educational.
Authorship Scholarly articles and books are written by scholars and researchers. These authors have significant experience and credentials backing their work. Members of a given profession or trade are the primary authors of these sources. They contribute their lived professional experiences in their field to these sources. The authorship of a popular source can also be quite varied. Authors may or may not even be named.
Sources Sources are always cited and referred to in an academic source; acknowledging the work of past scholars is a critical component of academic integrity. Trade articles may or may not cite their sources--this will generally depend on the given field and the individual publication. These sources will rarely, if ever, cite their sources.
Review Academic sources almost always undergo a process called peer review. In this process, other scholars comment and critique a work before its' publication, and the author will revise based on those comments. For the most part, trade sources are not peer reviewed. Not peer reviewed.
Syntax In these sources, the language used is academic in nature, and requires knowledge of the discipline in question. Professional sources will use the language of their profession. They will be less specialized knowledge than an academic source, but will still require some knowledge of the profession. Language is geared for a general audience and is understandable for most readers.