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Understanding Scientific Literature

Characteristics of Scholarly Sources

General Characteristics: 

Target Audience: Scholars, researchers, and students in a given discipline or field. 

Purpose: To share the outcomes of research to other researchers, scholars, and students in the field. To further knowledge in a given discipline or field. 

Scope: Narrow focus on a specific discipline or smaller sub-field. 

Illustrations: Few or no illustrations. Illustrations will be charts, graphs, and figures directly related to the content of the text. 

Authors: Scholars, researchers, and sometimes students in a given discipline or field. The author will usually have an institutional affiliation. 

Sources: Articles will have many, formally cited sources. Listed as footnotes and/or in the bibliography. 

 

Characteristics of Scholarly Journals:

In addition to the above characteristics scholarly journals have characteristics unique to the format. 

Advertisements: No, to few advertisements. Advertisements will be limited to books, journals, publishers, conferences, and other things specific to the field or discipline of the journal. 

Article Length: Long articles, can be between 10 - 30 pages. 

Editorial Process: Articles will have been peer-reviewed by other experts in the field to improve the content of the article. 

 

Characteristics of Scholarly Books: 

In addition to the above characteristics scholarly books, often called monographs, have additional characteristics unique to the format.

Publisher: Usually a publisher with an academic affiliation. For example, Harvard University Press or University of Chicago Press. 

Authors: May not have a single author. Many scholarly books have an editor (or editors) with different authors for each chapter. 

 

Characteristics of Popular Sources

General Characteristics: 

Target Audience: The general public.

Purpose: To entertain and/or educate members of the general public.

Scope: Broad focus across disciplines. 

Illustrations: Many, colorful photographs or illustrations, that may or may not be directly related to the content of the text. (note: popular books may not have abundant photographs or illustrations). 

Authors: Journalists, lay-people, sometimes experts in a field. 

Sources: Sources may or may not be named. Sources will probably not be formally cited.

 

Characteristics of Popular Magazines: 

In addition to the above characteristics, popular magazines have characteristics unique to the format. 

Advertisements: Many, colorful advertisements that may or may not be related to the subject of the magazine. 

Article length: Shorter articles. 1 - 5 pages.  

Editorial Process: Articles will be reviewed by an editor, but not peer reviewed. 

 

Characteristics of Popular Books: 

In addition to the above characteristics, popular books have characteristics unique to the format. 

Publisher: Usually a commercial publisher. 

Authors: Typically a single author.