Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Sociology Qualitative Methods

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

When doing research it is important to know the difference between scholarly and popular source. Both are useful to your research, but for different reasons. There are a number of differences between scholarly and popular sources, which you can see described below. If you are unsure if a source is scholarly or popular just ask a librarian or your professor!. 


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: May contain 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). Newspaper articles may not contain any 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: May contain many, colorful advertisements that may or may not be related to the subject of the magazine. Advertisements in newspapers may be in black and white.

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. 

Evaluating Online Sources


CARS is a checklist for evaluating websites

C - Credibility

  • Is the creator/author named? What is their job? Are they a researcher, journalist, or something else?

A - Accuracy

  • Is the website free of spelling errors, grammatical errors, dead links, or other problems?
  • Does the article have a publication date? Does the publication date align with the requirements for your assignment?


  • Who created the website?
  • Does the website avoid advertising that does not seem appropriate?

S - Support

  • Is there a bibliography or sources listed? In journalistic content this can look like naming sources and hyperlinks.