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Biology 260

Differences between Popular, Scholarly, & Trade Publications

An important part of gathering and evaluating sources for research projects is knowing the difference between popular, scholarly, and trade publications. ​

  • Popular magazine articles are typically written by journalists to entertain or inform a general audience,
  • Scholarly articles are written by researchers or experts in a particular field. They use specialized vocabulary, have extensive citations, and are often peer-reviewed.
  • Trade publications may be written by experts in a certain industry, but they are not considered scholarly, as they share general news, trends, and opinions, rather than advanced research, and are not peer-reviewed.

The physical appearance of print sources can help you identify the type of source as well. Popular magazines and trade publications are usually glossy with many photos. Scholarly journals are usually smaller and thicker with plain covers and images, In electronic sources you can check for bibliographies and author credentials or affiliations as potential indicators of scholarly sources.

  Popular Magazines Scholarly (including peer-reviewed) Trade Publications
Content

Current events; general interest articles

Research results/reports; reviews of research (review articles); book reviews 

Articles about a certain business or industry
Purpose To inform, entertain, or elicit an emotional response To share research or scholarship with the academic community To inform about business or industry news, trends, or products 
Author Staff writers, journalists, freelancers Scholars/researchers Staff writers, business/industry professionals
Audience General public Scholars, researchers, students Business/industry professionals
Review Staff editor Editorial board made up of other scholars and researchers. Some articles are peer-reviewed* Staff editor
Citations May have no citations, or may be informal (ex. according to... or links) Bibliographies, references, endnotes, footnotes Few, may or may not have any
Frequency Weekly/monthly Quarterly or semi-annually Weekly/monthly
Ads* Numerous ads for a variety of products Minimal, usually only for scholarly products like books Ads are for products geared toward specific industry

Popular Articles

Use Reader's Guide Full Text Mega, Academic Search Premier, or browse online issues by searching for these titles in the E-Journals list.

  • American Scientist (Academic Search Premier)
  • BioScience (Reader's)
  • Discover Magazine (Reader's)
  • New Scientist (Academic Search Premier)
  • Science (Reader's)
  • Science News (Reader's)
  • Scientific American (Reader's)
  • The Scientist (Use E-Journal List)

Scholarly Articles (Databases)

HINT: Make sure you limit to publication types to retrieve articles that are primary sources (original research): Randomized Control Trial, Clinical Trial, Research, Case Study, or Clinical Study.

HINT: Make sure you limit to publication types to retrieve articles that are primary sources (original research): Randomized Control Trial, Research, or Case Study.

HINT: Make sure you limit to publication types to retrieve articles that are primary sources (original research): Randomized Control Trial, Clinical Trial, Research, Case Study, or Clinical Study.