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Research Tips and Tricks

Scholarly vs Popular Sources Videos

When writing papers, professors may ask you to use scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. 

Not every source you find when searching in a database will be scholarly, and scholarly sources can't be easily found through a Google search. 

The videos in the tabs above give general explanations about the difference between scholarly and popular sources. 

The boxes below go into more detail about how to identify a scholarly article and a scholarly book. 

Popular vs Scholarly Articles

Scholarly articles (academic or peer-reviewed articles) are written by scholars or professionals who are experts in their fields and contain original research or findings. They also use specialized vocabulary and extensive references to sources. 




The following elements are always present in a scholarly article.

Title: There is a long, precise title that gives you a good indication of the contents of the paper. 

Authors: The author(s) are identified.

In-text citations: Scholarly articles will have in-text citations. However, depending on the citation style these citations may be in brackets at the of a sentence or be in a footnote/endnote.

Reference list: A scholarly article will always have a reference list.

Body of the paper: The paper is usually lengthy and mostly text. If there are any figures or images, they are identified with a clear caption.

The following elements are usually present in a scholarly article.

Abstract: Some papers will include a descriptive summary of the article contents before the main article. 

Author affiliations: Some articles will state the affiliations of the author, which are often universities, research institutions, or think tanks.

If a journal article is peer-reviewed, it is guaranteed to be scholarly. Watch the video below for more information about the peer-review process.

Scholarly vs Popular Books

Scholarly books disseminate research and academic discussion among professionals within disciplines.  They are intended for academic study and research, and are preferred when writing college-level papers. They are published by academic or university presses.

Adapted from University of Toronto Libraries.  

                                               Scholarly Books                                                                                    Non-Scholarly Books


  • To share with other scholars the results of primary research & experiments.
  • To entertain or inform in a broad, general sense.


  • A respected scholar or researcher in the field; an expert in the topic; names are always noted.
  • A journalist or feature writer; names not always noted.


  • A university press; a professional association or known (independent) scholarly publisher.
  • A commercial publisher.

Intended audience

  • Other scholars or researchers in the field, or those interested in the topic at a research level.
  • General public.


  • Language is formal and technical; usually contains discipline-specific jargon.
  • Language is casual. Few, if any, technical terms are used (and if they are, they are usually defined).


  • References are always cited and expected; text often contains footnotes.
  • Very uncommon; text may contain referrals to "a study published at..." or "researchers have found that..." with no other details.


Adapted from University of Toronto Libraries 

These clues will go a long way towards assisting you in differentiating between books intended for the scholar and, therefore, preferred when writing research papers, from trade publications or mass-market publications that are designed for a general audience.

Publisher: An excellent clue to a scholarly resource is its publisher. 

Books from publishers specializing in the field will tend to be of better quality textually then those that don’t.

  • Look for “About” and a “Mission Statement”
  • Consider how long they’ve been in business?
  • Do they provide services to academia?
  • Books published by a university press will tend to be more academically sound than those published by trade publishers, especially if the institution has a good reputation in the field covered by the work. 

Cited References and Bibliography: Even more than a useful tool for evaluating the reliability of an author, cited references are an excellent indication of the scholarship of a work. 

  • Look for cited references or at least a bibliography. Most books intended for the scholar contain citations and a bibliography, whereas books designed for a general audience do not.
  • Also, consider who is being cited; how frequently are the references cited elsewhere; has anyone cited the work being evaluated and is this perhaps the primary source?
  • For works in the humanities, a good clue that you’ve found the primary source is when you keep getting referred to the same source over and over again.  
  • Works in the sciences will report on original research.

Content: examine these aspects of the work to assist in ascertaining the scholarship of a work:

  • Accuracy: how does the information compare to that of other works on the subject?
  • Biases: all authors are biased, but scholarly works tend to reflect the results of research in the field and not propagandize.
  • Preface, Introduction, Table of Contents, Conclusion and Index: most scholarly works will have several, if not all, of these components. Consider also how well the author lives up to his/her claims indicated in the preface, introduction and conclusion.
  • Audience appropriate: a scholarly work will be written to those with some knowledge of or ability to understand the topic under discussion.

Graphics, Charts, Illustrations, etc.: many scholarly works will have graphs, charts, illustrations, etc.

© Janet Tillman/The Master’s University, 2008-2014, permission is granted for non-profit educational use; any reproduction or modification should include this statement.