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COM 101 - Marissa Pytlak-Surdyke, PhD : Popular vs. Scholarly

What Is a Scholarly Article?

Popular vs. Scholarly Periodicals


Professors often require that students include articles from scholarly, refereed, or peer-reviewed journals as resources for their research papers. These articles are authored by experts in their field and reviewed by peers before getting accepted for publication. See below for a chart to help you distinguish between the two types of periodicals.


Popular Magazine

Scholarly Journal



General readership

Students, researchers, scholars, specialists in a particular subject


Popular language, geared towards the average reader

Specialized vocabulary of a subject discipline


Feature stories, reviews, editorials. May report research findings as news

Original research, theoretical issues, new developments in the subject discipline


Staff writers (not always named), freelance writers

Subject specialists named, degrees and academic affiliation usually given


Articles rarely include references or footnotes

Meticulously documented; extensive references and/or footnotes


Highly visual, lots of advertising and photos

Somber design, little advertising, mostly text with some graphs and tables

What is a Scholarly Journal Article?

Chances are you’ll need to find a scholarly journal article for a research paper or project in the near future. But, wait, what is a “scholarly journal article?” How is it different from a popular source like a newspaper or magazine article?
Let’s reduce the confusion on scholarly journal articles.
Scholarly journals enable scholars -- experts in a particular academic field -- to communicate their research with other experts in that field through publishing articles and to stay current by reading about other scholars’ work. Consequently, scholarly journals create a community of scholars who are all participating in a kind of “conversation” in that academic field. Rather than a face-to-face conversation, this is a formal conversation, which takes place over months and years through written documents.
The most important part of this long term written conversation - what makes it a “scholarly” conversation, as opposed to popular - is what’s called the “peer review process.” The peer review process works like this: in order for a scholar to get published in a scholarly journal, his or her expert peers must read their work and critique it. These “peer reviewers” make sure that the scholar has cited the appropriate experts in the discipline, made valid and well-supported arguments, and has written the article on a topic that is appropriate for that particular journal. This rigorous evaluation process ensures that scholarly work meets a higher standard than popular publications.
So, why is this important for you?
First, the information in a scholarly text has been rigorously evaluated, so it is more reliable and credible than information in popular sources.
Second, reading scholarly journal articles for your papers or projects can give you insight into the ways of thinking of experts in that field.
Finally, every scholarly text has extensive bibliographies that introduce you to important texts in the field, which can help you extend your research in that area. When you read the articles and books the scholar cited in her article, you are taking part in the scholarly conversation.
Okay, so, brass tacks: let’s say you are in a research database and you only want scholarly articles. How do you do it?
In EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete, a common research database, you check the box for “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals” before clicking the search button. That’s it. Now, all of your results will be scholarly articles.
For more information, check out the “How Do I...?” section of the Libraries website or contact a UW librarian by clicking the "ask us!" link on any Libraries webpage.

University of Washington Libraries. (2011, July 19). What is a Scholarly Journal Article? [Video]. YouTube.

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