Unit 5: Conducting Independent Research

36 Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Other Periodicals

Journals, magazines, and newspapers are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. Read about the four categories of sources below:

Types of sources

Scholarly: report the results of research or analytical studies

Substantive: report on general interest and news stories or research in-depth

Popular: report on current events, entertain, or summarize research of general interest

Sensational or “Clickbait:” report on current events, entertain, and arouse strong curiosity or reaction.

Below are the general criteria for each type of source.


  • Purpose: report the results of original research or analysis
  • Audience: scholars, researchers, and students of a particular field of study
  • Authors: are experts in their field; author names and credentials always included
  • Appearance: clearly labeled sections (e.g. “methods” or “discussion”); may contain charts and graphs reporting research results; photos or images only if relevant to the field
  • Language: technical or specialized language
  • Content: usually contains the following
    • an abstract (a short summary) at the beginning of the article
    • their research methodology
    • research results and analysis
    • bibliography of works cited
  • Also called: academic journals or articles
  • Publication process: reviewed by other scholars before publication; sources always included
American Journal of Sociology

American Economic Review

Communication Education

Internet and Higher Education

New England Journal of Medicine

Journal of Theoretical Biology

Access these journals through the UW Libraries Website (not through their webpages because you need a paid subscription).


  • Purpose: report on general interest and news stories or research in-depth
  • Audience: a general audience with an interest in the topic
  • Authors: are staff writers for the publication (may or may not be experts in the field); or a scholar or freelance writer; author credentials usually included
  • Appearance: may have a magazine or newspaper format; may include photographs, images, or charts or graphs (though less technical than those in scholarly sources)
  • Language: written for a general, but interested reader; language may be more sophisticated than that of popular sources, but not as technical as scholarly sources
  • Content: reports on and explores current news, research, and trends
  • Publication process: reviewed and checked by publication editor; sources may be included in the article
Business Week

Christian Science Monitor

Congressional Quarterly (CQ Researcher)**


The Economist

National Geographic


Opposing Viewpoints**

Pew Research Group

Scientific American

US News and World Report

National Public Radio

Public Broadcasting Service

Newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Independent, BBC News or CBC News

** Access these databases through the UW Libraries Website.


  • Purpose: report on current events, entertain, or summarize research of general interest
  • Audience: the general public
  • Authors: journalists or general writers, but not necessarily experts in the field; author often unnamed
  • Appearance: come in many formats (often magazine-like) with colorful photographs and images; contains lots of advertisements; sources rarely included
  • Language: written in relatively simple, everyday language
  • Content: reports on current topics, events, or trends to inform or entertain
  • Publication process: reviewed by publication editor often with little checking

People Weekly

Readers Digest

Sports Illustrated


USA Today


  • Purpose: to entertain, promote a point of view, or sell products
  • Audience: the general public with an interest in the topic
  • Authors: publication staff writers; not experts in the field
  • Appearance: magazine style format, with colorful photos/images; many paid advertisements; print may be large and bold
  • Language: written in simple, short, everyday language; language may be emotional
  • Content: reports on current topics or events in order to entertain or shock the reader
  • Publication process: reviewed by publication editor without any checking; no sources

These sources should be avoided in your assignments for this course.


National Examiner

Star Magazine

Weekly World News

When searching in databases

Substantive and popular articles generally do not contain an abstract. However, if you are searching for a substantive or popular article in a database, there will typically be an abstract in the database entry. Note that this is an abstract in the database, not the article itself.

Sources consulted:

  1. Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries Research Guides
  2. and Cornell University Library Research & Learning Services
    Olin Library
    Cornell University Library
    Ithaca, NY, USA

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from the Evelyn & Howard Boroughs Library


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