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Academic vs. Popular Sources

Different publications have different purposes and are intended for different audiences. So it is important to consider their relevance and authority before you use them to support what you have to say.

Here are a few things to consider when examining a source:

  • Timeliness: is the research up-to-date, not superseded by new research?
  • Authority: authors credentials should be clearly visible -- are they experts in the field?
  • Objectivity: Is this an opinion piece or information/fact based?

This table will help you distinguish between Academic and Popular publications:

  Academic Popular
Length
  • Longer, providing in-depth analysis
  • Shorter, broader overviews of topics
Authorship
  • Author is usually an expert or specialist in the field.
  • Name and Credentials of author(s) usually included.
  • Author is often a staff writer or journalist.
  • Credentials are often not provided
Audience
  • Written in specialized language of the field
  • Intended for scholars, researchers, students etc.
  • Non-technical language directed at general audience.
Format/Structure
  • More structured format.
  • May include an abstract, lit review, methodology, conclusion, bibliography/footnotes
  • Article may not necessarily follow a structure.
Editors/Publisher
  • Reviewed and critically evaluated by experts in the field.
  • Sponsored or published by professional organizations, research institutions, universities or scholarly presses
  • Evaluated by editors on staff
  • Published by commercial or trade publishers.
Credits/
Documentation
  • Include a bibliography or works cited, proves that the document was researched thoroughly.
  • Usually not provided but reports or references are made within the body of the text
Special Features
  • Illustrations and graphs support text
  • Advertising and glossy
Examples
  • British Journal of Management
  • International Journal of Leadership in Education
  • Macleans
  • Psychology Today

*In some cases magazine or newspaper articles are just as valuable to your research as journal articles. Be sure to ask your instructor if you require clarification on the types of resources that are suitable for your assignment or project.

For further discussion:
Cornell University Library: Distinguishing between Scholarly journals and other periodicals

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