The table below shows which characteristics are more commonly associated with scholarly or popular sources. Both scholarly and popular sources can be appropriate for your research purposes, depending on your research question, but research assignments will often require you to consult primarily with scholarly materials.
|Authors:||Experts such as scientists, faculty, and historians||Generalists, including bloggers, staff writers, and journalists; not always attributed|
|Examples:||Journal of Asian History, New England Journal of Medicine, Chemical Reviews, Educational Psychologist; books from University presses such as Oxford University Press and the University of California Press||Wikipedia, CNN.com, About.com; People Magazine, USA Today; bestselling books; books from popular publishers like Penguin and Random House|
|Focus:||Specific and in-depth||Broad overviews|
|Language:||Dense; includes academic jargon||Easier to read; defines specialized terms|
|Format:||Almost always include: abstracts, literature reviews, methodologies, results, and conclusions||Varies|
|Citations:||Include bibliographies, citations, and footnotes that follow a particular academic style guide||No formal citations included; may or may not informally attribute sources in text|
|Before publication:||Evaluated by peers (other scholars)||Edited by in-house editors or not edited at all|
|Audience:||Specialists in the subject area: students, professors and the author's peers||General readers; shouldn't require any special background|
|Design:||Mostly text, with some tables and charts; very little photography; no advertising||Glossy images, attractive design; photo illustrations and advertising are more common|
|Purpose:||Communicating research findings; education;||Entertainment; news|
Grey Literature refers to "reports, conference proceedings, preprints, working papers, theses, dissertations, personal communications, technical notes" and other ephemeral scientific sources, often published by government, business or academic organizations*. This kind of literature can be key for emerging research and alternative perspectives. To discover the grey literature in your field of interest, browse the article databases for your subject.
Government Publications are a subset of grey literature, and can be important sources for state, federal, and international perspectives on official government proceedings of all kinds. For more information on the many varieties of government documents, consult the library's Government Information guides.
Tertiary Sources refer to encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks and other reference materials that provide broad overviews of particular topics. Where secondary sources summarize and interpret an event or phenomenon, tertiary sources summarize and interpret other resources. They can be a great place to begin studying unfamiliar topics. To find tertiary sources, take a look at the library's collection of online encyclopedias & almanacs, or dictionaries, thesauri, & quotations.
Trade Literature refers to journals, websites, newsletters and other sources aimed at professionals in a particular field. These sources will often report news and trends in the field, reviews of products related to the industry at hand, interviews with leaders in the field, as well as job listings and advertisements. To discover the trade literature in your field of interest, take a look at the business database finder or the library research subject guide for your field of interest. See also: Engineering Trade Publications, Healthcare Industry Information.
* Quote from "Grey Literature," in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd Ed.
A peer reviewed or peer refereed journal or article is one in which a group of widely acknowledged experts in a field reviews the content for scholarly soundness and academic value.
You can limit your search results to peer reviewed materials in many library databases: