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Scholarly and Popular Resources: Use and Knowing the Difference: Home

Scholary or Peer-reviewed Journals

Many of your assignments in university require you to find scholarly, or peer-reviewed resources to inform and cite in your own work. This library guide will help you understand the value of peer-reviewed resources as well as how to identify them.

Peer reviewed and refereed journals and Popular Periodicals

Most scholarly journals are peer reviewed or refereed.  This refers to a process in which submitted articles undergo rigorous evaluation by a group of academics or researchers whose knowledge and credentials are similar to those of the author, hence the author's 'peers'.

The reviewers send their recommendations on to the journal's editors.  Articles ultimately approved for publication have gone through this refereed process and when published, further the knowledge in a given discipline.

Encore allows you to limit your search to peer-reviewed or scholarly publications, excluding the popular material.  If you need to use scholarly resources for your research paper, checking this box will help limit the results to journal titles that are considered scholarly. Many (but not all!) of the detailed records in Encore also identify whether or not the article record you're looking at is peer-reviewed.

Here is a great video that will help you better understand the peer review process:

Peer Review in Five Minutes [NCSU Libraries]

Why peer-reviewed articles?

So why are your professors requiring you to find peer-reviewed articles as resources for your papers and projects? The most important reason is that the quality of the information is held to a much higher standard in a peer-reviewed journal. The reputation of the journal, the reviewers, and the author(s) is at stake here. Every peer-reviewed journal only wants to publish the best work in their field.

You can also think of it in another way. When you leave university and go into your respective career, you'll also be expected to produce the best work, and to inform that work with relevant, reliable research. Depending on your field, you may or may not use peer-reviewed resources in your future career, but using them now means that you will have the knowledge to find them, and to identify common language that may signal other resources as good or problematic. Your employers will expect good problem-solving and critical thinking skills from you, so a lot of what you learn from locating and using peer-reviewed journal articles can carry over into how you understand the work you do on a daily basis.

Other Things to Note about Peer-Reviewed Articles

Time changes everything. Did you watch the video linked to above? If you did, you know that one of the biggest problems with peer-reviewed journals is time. It takes time to write a peer-reviewed article and more time for it to be accepted and published. Many fields of study often change very quickly, so something written just a few years ago could already be out-of-date, although it is peer-reviewed. This doesn't mean these older articles aren't relevant. They can help you paint a picture of research over time and older articles may be paramount in understanding the way research has evolved. We can say this about ALL of our resources for assignments though, so make sure you have a good understanding of the timeline of what you're studying and what may be the best and most relevant to your own assignment. Your professors can help you understand this balance for your own work. Don't be afraid to ask for their advice.

Attributes of Peer-Reviewed/Scholarly Journals

The purpose of scholarly journals is to inform other scholars of research findings. Some knowledge of the subject terminology is required.

  • Authors are experts (professors, researchers, or scholars) in their field.
  • Content tends to be highly specialized and includes research projects, methodology and theory. See Anatomy of a Scholarly Article [NCSU Libraries]
  • Appearance is sometimes sober and serious, compared to popular magazines. For print journals, the tone may be set by a plain cover on plain paper and simple black and white graphics and illustrations.
  • Advertising is minimal or nonexistent.
  • Language will include terms specific to the field. Assumes some scholarly knowledge by the reader.
  • Sources are always cited.
  • Publishers include research organizations and universities.
  • Pagination tends to be consecutive within one volume, which may contain several separate issues.
  • Examples: American Economic Review, Archives of Sexual Behavior, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Plasma Physics, Annals of Glaciology, and Modern Fiction Studies.


Interested in more information about peer-reviewed articles? Check out our library guide: "How to Get the Most from Peer-Reviewed Articles"

Subject Index

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News and Newspapers

The main purpose is to provide information to a broad audience. No prior subject knowledge is necessary.

  • Authors are usually free lance writers or journalist, but can be scholars.
  • Content can be news or human interest, either narrowly or broadly covered.
  • Appearance can be slick and attractive, although some are in newspaper format. Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with color photographs.
  • Advertising can be moderate or heavy, and includes unrelated products.
  • Language is geared toward an educated audience.
  • Sources are sometimes cited, but not always.
  • Publishers are usually commercial enterprises or individuals; although some emanate from specific professional organizations.
  • ExamplesThe New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Fresno Bee.

Trade & Professional Journals

Trade journals examine news, trends, and issues for a specific business, industry or organization.

  • Authors can be professionals in the field or journalists working for the publisher.
  • Content includes industry tends, new products or techniques, and organizational news.
  • Appearance is often marked by a glossy cover, color pictures and illustrations, a cover depicting an industrial setting.
  • Advertisements tend to be related to the specific industry or trade.
  • Language will include terms specific to the field.
  • Sources may be cited.
  • Publishers include trade organizations and commercial publishers.
  • Pagination starts at one with each issue.
  • Examples: Nursing, Advertising Age, Chronicle of Higher Education, Science Teacher, and Automotive News.

Popular Magazines

These magazines are designed to entertain, sell products, give practical information, and/or to promote a viewpoint.

  • Authors are journalists, and generally not experts in a specific area of study. Articles may be unsigned or generated from corporate press releases.
  • Content includes popular personalities, news, and general interest articles.
  • Appearance is marked by glossy covers and lots of color illustrations and photographs. Articles are generally short.
  • Advertising is heavy.
  • Language is simple and designed to meet a minimal education level.
  • Sources may be second or third hand, and the original source is sometimes obscure.
  • Publishers are commercial enterprises.
  • Examples: Time, People, Newsweek, Readers Digest, Sports Illustrated, and Vogue.

Commentary & Opinion Journals

Commentary and Opinion Journals examine social or political issues.

  • Authors can be academics, journalists or organization representatives.
  • Content may include liberal or conservative viewpoints, and may contain speeches, interviews, or reviews.
  • Appearance varies widely; some appear plain, other are very glossy.
  • Advertising is moderate.
  • Language is written for general educated audience.
  • Sources are sometimes cited and may be included within the text.
  • Publishers are commercial publishers or non-profit organizations.
  • Pagination starts with one with each issue.
  • Examples: National Review, New Republic, and Progressive.


Thank you to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who allowed us to use and adapt their library guide "Scholarly vs. Popular Resources" for use here.