While these differences between scholarly and non-scholarly sources might seem straight-forward, many publications are somewhere in between scholarly and non-scholarly. A journal like College English is clearly an academic source and a magazine like People is clearly a popular source. But categorizing magazines like Ms., Harper’s,or The Atlantic is more difficult since these publications tend to publish articles that are in many ways similar to the articles published in more academic sources.
Another difficult to categorize source is corporate or “trade” journals. Most professions and industries have highly specialized publications about that particular business. For example, Human Resource Executive is targeted to professionals who work in Human Resources departments, Accounting Today is for and about the accounting business, and Advertising Age focuses on the advertising industry. While most of the writers and editors of trade journals do not have scholarly backgrounds, they tend to be highly focused and knowledgeable about their business. An article about hiring trends in Human Resource Executive will probably have more in common with an academic source than it will with a popular source.
A third “in between” type of research resource is newspapers. On the one hand, most newspapers would seem to share the characteristics of non-scholarly or popular sources: they are written for a general audience by writers who are not necessarily experts, they include many photographs and graphics, and so on. However, a number of publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education are quite different from most newspapers because they are written for a specialized audience, like college and community college teachers and administrators. Further, newspapers tend to be used by a wide variety of readers and writers-- including scholars-- as a source of basic and reliable information about day-to-day events.
In research writing courses, teachers will often insist students use only or mostly scholarly sources in their research projects because, as is discussed in some detail in the next section in this chapter, scholarly sources tend to be more credible and reliable than non-scholarly sources. This is not to say that popular sources aren’t credible or reliable; clearly, most of them are, and in many cases, specialized popular sources can be very useful in academic research. A research project about computer crime may very well include relevant information from a popular source like WIRED or a trade publication written for people who work in the computer industry.
However, scholarly sources are generally considered more credible and reliable than popular sources. They tend to publish articles that go into more detail about their subjects, they are written for a more knowledgeable audience, and they are written by experts.
Working alone or collaboratively in small groups, consider the following questions:
- What sorts of scholarly sources are you and your classmates already familiar with? What sorts of non-scholarly sources of evidence are you already familiar with that might be useful for your research process?
- Think about the kind of topics you are interested in researching and writing about. Are you aware of any scholarly sources where you are likely to find research on your topic? What about popular or non-scholarly publications?
- If you are not yet familiar with specific titles of scholarly or popular sources that might be relevant for your topic, what kind of research would you conduct to find these sources?