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First Year Program Dept. 199 Library Instruction

Here are the information literacy basics for second semester students taking the 199 Research Based Writing Course.

Scholarly, Trade, and Popular Sources

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources are often required for college level research.  They have the highest level of authority, as they are written by experts in the discipline, generally PhDs.  Many but not all of them are peer-reviewed, also known as refereed. In the peer-review process, articles are scrutinized by a panel of experts to verify accuracy, validity, and value to the profession.


  • Scholarly sources are written by experts – a PhD. affiliated with a college or university, for example.
  • Scholarly sources include a long list of citations or references at the end of the work.

Trade Sources

Trade journal articles are written by those practicing in the field. The authors may be nurses, teachers, managers, engineers, etc. The purpose for the journal is to share information and practical strategies among people who are working in a profession. They are less lengthy and may have a few or no references at the end.

Popular Sources

Popular sources are those written by journalists or freelance writers. They are meant to appeal to the general public, often with sensationalized titles, glossy photos and illustrations, and many advertisements. Their main purpose is to entertain and generate revenue. Use the chart below to help you compare scholarly, trade, and popular publications, or use the attached document.

Scholarly, Trade and Popular Publications: Chart

AUTHOR Usually a Ph.D., a professor affiliated with a college or university Practitioners/professionals working within a field Usually a staff writer, journalist, free-lance writer, or unknown author
CONTENT Research reports, methodology, theory Industry trends, new developments, information to help workers on the job News, opinions, general interest articles
PURPOSE Advance knowledge and share research Update practitioners and provide news/information to workers within a field Inform, persuade, entertain (and let's get real...mostly to entertain and make a profit)
AUDIENCE Scholars and researchers Professionals and practitioners General public
CITATIONS Many citations listed at end Might have a few Almost never
(short summary)
Yes, at beginning of the article, written by the author Hardly ever (don't confuse the description given in the database record for an abstract) Nope
PEER-REVIEWED Most are (check Ulrichsweb, see below) No No
LANGUAGE Technical and assumes a scholarly background Industry jargon and assumes an understanding of the field Everyday language and easily accessible to the general public
VISUALS Figures, graphs, tables, charts that support research Pictures and illustrations that bring interest to the article's content Pictures and illustrations generalized throughout
ADVERTISING Usually none Ads that are targeted to an industry or field Ads throughout to finance the magazine
EXAMPLES Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Advanced Nursing, World Politics U.S. Banker, Progressive Farmer, Social Education National Geographic, Newsweek, Time


What do you Need?

Before you begin looking for articles, have a clear sense of the assignment and your professor's expectations.

  • What sort of sources are required or allowed?
  • How many will you need?

If you are not sure, ask your professor. A librarian can help you to locate proper sources and/or help you to review the sources you have found.

If you have free rein over the types of resources to use for a paper, think about what you need:

  • Does it need to be current and topical?
  • Does it need to be verified by scholars in the discipline?
  • Does it need to be as unbiased as possible?

Choose source types on these bases, with a critical eye.


Short Quiz on Scholarly, Trade, and Popular Publications