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CMN432 Professional Communications for Engineers

What are Scholarly and Popular Sources

Learning Objective: Identify a scholarly source from a popular source


Watch our video on popular vs scholarly sources


cog wheel

The Terms: 


"Scholarly" and "popular" are terms used to describe a source's content, purpose, audience and more.


MacLeans Magazine cover with Rob Ford - a popular source"Popular"

  • magazines, newspaper articles, popular books
  • written for general audience, informal in tone and scope
  • rarely cite other sources 
  • magazine and newspaper articles are short (200-500 words)
  • useful for getting ideas for a topic or for background and anecdotal information.

Watch out ! Magazines that cover academic topics for general audiences are considered "popular" i.e., National Geographic, Scientific American, Psychology Today.




scholarly book: Depoliticising migration


  • written by experts (majority have PhD's)
  • author(s) associated with Universities, Research Institutors or Hospitals
  • contain original research
  • cite other sources extensively throughout and contain works cited section
  • audience is other experts and university students studying in the same field
  • language and content is academic 
  • many are peer reviewed


“Peer Reviewed” Articles three people talking at a table- Peers reviewing work

Peer reviewed articles are scholarly sources that have undergone a review process before being published.  Experts in a particular field of study submit their original research in the form of an article to a journal publisher. Before it can be published, it will be evaluated and critiqued by researchers and experts in the same field (hence - reviewed by their peers).


Remember: your topic is part of a bigger conversation:

Scholarly authors are already talking about your topic - use them to prove your own argument.




Why we use scholarly sources.

Learning Objective: Understand why scholarly peer reviewed articles are used in university-level research


Your professor is likely to ask you to use scholarly articles for your paper because.......?stick man with chalkboard with word- WHY?


  1. they are the agreed upon method of disseminating scholarly research in University. (HINT: your own paper should try to model their style and prose)

  2. they require authors to document the sources of facts, ideas, and methods they used to arrive at their insights and conclusions.  



There are times when popular sources are appropriate. Popular sources, such as magazines and newspapers, are very useful for current commentary on a topic or issue.  Usually you can use a few popular sources along with your scholarly sources, but always follow the guidelines /instructions for your assignment. 


Remember to ask critical questions about the “authority” of your source.

At the University level, you need to be critical about who wrote your source and its content. You understand that there are authorized forms of information for discipline or career specific situations (like peer reviewed journals).   


Remember the type of source matters in University. 

Scholarly sources strive for information quality and accuracy. You understand that different types of formats (a book vs. a Tweet) will affect the quality of information.



What is a Peer Reviewed Article?

A peer reviewed article is an article that has been written by an expert and has been reviewed by other experts before being published. This review process ensures the quality of information in the article.  

How can I tell if my article is peer reviewed?

I've found a great article, but I don't know if it is peer reviewed?  By using a resource called Ulrich's International Periodical Directory, you can check to see if the journal that the article is from is peer-reviewed.

  1. Go to Ulrich's
  2. Enter the title of the journal (not the title of the article) in the search box
  3. If an icon  appears by the journal title in the peer reviewed column, then the title is peer reviewed.