Scholarly VS Popular Sources

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In academic writing, the credibility of sources predicts the validity of the information provided and creates value. Using scholarly sources is highly recommended because they are reviewed by many experts in the field who make necessary corrections. Nevertheless, respected popular sources such as national newspapers and journals may also prove useful in providing background information. Trade publications may be used when no alternative scholarly source is available. However, this guide provides a deeper insight into the difference between these types of academic sources.

Scholarly Sources

Scholarly sources are usually written by experts in a particular field of study who conduct research, elaborate on hypotheses, analyze previous findings, and draw conclusions based on the results of their research. Sometimes, scholars may design a theory or assumptions that can be tested only within an experimental environment and thus must apply statistical analysis to group those results and draw conclusions. Scholarly sources are also usually referred to as academic or peer-reviewed and have a high level of credibility. The latter concept assumes that other experts in the same field of study have reviewed the article and have provided evaluations or recommendations, facilitating corrections before publication.

Popular Sources

Similar to scholarly sources, articles in popular publications report the results of recent studies but make them easier for the general public to read. The highest levels of credibility are generally attributed to scholarly sources, but popular articles from reputable magazines or newspapers can also provide accurate information, stories, and editorial opinions on certain topics. Thus, people outside the scientific community may develop an interest in the subject and become involved in learning more about a research project.

Trade Publications

The information provided in trade publications is targeted at professionals in a certain industry. Articles in newspapers, magazines, and journals introduce recent trends and news in a certain sphere, allowing professionals to remain up-to-date. While scholarly sources provide research results retrieved from recent studies to either complement, approve, or discount certain theories, trade publications simply note trends and tendencies in the field.

Comparison Table

Scholarly SourcesPopular SourcesTrade Publications
AuthorsScientists and researchers in the field of studyJournalists or staff writers who provide general information on the caseJournalists or staff writers experienced in the field of study who provide information in an easy-to-read format
Bibliographical InformationAll sources used are credible and cited according to one of the accepted citation stylesThe author might use information from other sources, but those are not documentedReferences are optional, but authors usually rely on reports and scientific achievements
Main ObjectiveTo present recent findings retrieved from the research and contribute to scientific developmentTo inform the public about news, useful tips, and other pieces of information that might interest readers To provide news, updates, recent trends, and innovations in the professional sphere
StructureFormally structured articles that contain abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion sectionsDepending on the subject, articles might be short or in long-read format; their main objective is to attract the attention of readersArticles designed in accordance with industry standards so that they are comprehended by professionals and experts
Actions before PublicationWorks and articles are peer-reviewed by other experts in the field of studyOne or several editors review the article in terms of grammar and structureOther experts in the field may advise on the credibility of the information; editors review grammar and structure
Frequency of PublicationMonthly, quarterly, annuallyWeekly, monthlyMonthly
Print AppearanceNo colorful design, many tables, some graphs, statistical calculations, text represented in black and whiteA colorful design aimed to attract the attention of the public; text is easy to read in a fluent fontScientific facts are diluted by images and schemes that facilitate grasping the main idea of the text
LanguageAcademic language with professional words; no contractions, no phrasal verbs, and no unsupported information allowedSimple languageScientific terms are mixed with simple language
Intended AudienceThe scientific community, including researchers and scholarsGeneral publicProfessionals in a certain industry or sphere
AccessUsually printed but often available online in university libraries or can be purchased for a feePrinted and online editions that sometimes require a monthly or annual subscription for an additional feeUsually printed


In academic writing, peer-reviewed scholarly articles possess the highest levels of credibility and are highly recommended for use as references. Alternatively, trade publications and popular sources can be used to supplement facts with general and background information.


Scholarly sources are created by researchers or scientists to present recent findings in a field of study. These articles are peer-reviewed and formally structured, using academic language and specific terms, incorporating statistical analysis of gathered data, and possibly containing tables or graphs. In comparison, popular sources are written by journalists and intended for the general public. They usually comprise articles, news, or useful tips written in simple language and complemented by colorful design to attract readers’ attention. Trade publications have features of both scholarly and popular sources. They provide information for professionals in a certain industry, typically combining simple language with a few scientific terms.

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