Professors often talk about using "scholarly" articles and avoiding "popular" sources. However, there are many sources that fall somewhere in the middle -- sources that reside between scholarly and popular. And all these sources can be helpful in their own ways. Popular sources can provide background information and context, while more scholarly information can provide hard evidence and compelling research. The following table describes popular and scholarly articles and the spaces in between. It might be more helpful to think of this as a spectrum rather than two diametrically opposed categories into which all sources must fit.
|Popular Sources||Hobby Publications||Trade Publications||Scholarly Sources|
|Specificity||General interest topics; news, entertainment||Covers specific hobbies/interests||Career-specific information||Specific to a narrow area of research|
|Author||Journalists||Journalists||Professionals in the field||Experts|
|Audience||EVERYONE||People with similar interests/hobbies||People who work in the same field||Professionals and experts in the field|
|Reading Level||8th Grade or lower||8th Grade or lower||Higher than 8th grade, may contain some jargon specific to subject area||Lots of big words; lots of jargon; hard to read/understand|
|Purpose||To entertain||To inform||To educate||To move progression forward; to gain a new understanding of the subject area|
|Has an abstract?||NEVER||Occasionally||Occasionally||ALWAYS|
|Has a bibliography?||NEVER||Occasionally||Occasionally||ALWAYS|
|Examples||USA Today, People||Wired, Yoga Journal, Popular Science, Food & Wine||Construction Worker, American Libraries||Journal of American Medical Association, Journal of Hydrology|
In addition to distinguishing between popular and scholarly articles, you need to be able to understand if the scholarly articles you are reading are reporting primary research or secondary research.
Primary research articles report original research and results. You will see the data and work that the authors produced. A primary source is an article that reports this. Other primary sources can include documents such as diaries and scrapbooks, photographs, and eyewitness accounts.
Secondary research often summarizes the work of many primary research studies. In the sciences, a common example of this is a review article. Review articles report and analyze the results of primary research articles, but don't report any new information.
Reading a scientific paper isn't like reading a book. Hint: Don't try to read it straight through from beginning to end!
Here are some tips to help you become skilled:
How to Read a Scientific Paper - Infographic from Elsevier
How to Read a Scientific Article by Mary Purugganan, Ph.D. and Jan Hewitt, Ph.D., Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication at Rice University
How to Read a Scientific Paper - Minimally modified from John W. Little and Roy Parker at the University of Arizona (which is no longer retrievable). This version is from a Biology course from by taught by Professor Devoto Fall 2011 at Wesleyan University.
Resources you might find helpful:
Here is your class citing limerick!
There were some students from USU
Who knew just what to do
When they did cite
They did it just right ...
And it turned out that their desired grade became true
Cocka doodle doo
Bippidy boppity boo
And their grades were coo'