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Evaluating Information Sources: Evaluating Resources

Popular vs. Scholarly

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



How recent is this information?  Has it been updated?  Is it current enough for your topic?


Is it fact or opinion?  Are there references to the sources of information?


Who is the creator or author? What are the author's credentials?


Is it biased?  Are they trying to sell you something - either a product or an idea?

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