Scholarly vs. Popular Sources


A scholarly resource (also called academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed resources) are written by experts in their field. A scholarly resource cites all material used. Scholarly work is typically submitted to journals/other accredited bodies and goes through a process of “peer review.” During peer review other experts in the field will scrutinize the work for accuracy and validity. Due to this review process, scholarly work written at a more advanced level than popular resources. In general, scholarly work is written by experts for experts.


A popular resource are written to inform and/or educate a broader audience. Popular resources frequently include commentary, opinion and/or personal beliefs. While some news stories do go through an editorial process – news reporting (be it local, national, or global) is not considered scholarly.


While aimed at experts, professional or trade publications are not considered scholarly. These sources tend to cover news, research reports, and expert opinions. Sources tend to have a higher number of promotional materials and advertisements than scholarly sources.

You may find resources that have the characteristics of being scholarly, but lack peer-review. Some of these resources may be useful and appropriate for your research. Be cautious when selecting resources for your research – if you are unsure if a resource is appropriate ask your instructor or a librarian.


There are some key differences between Scholarly, Popular, and Trade Publications.

You can use the Quick Guide below to help determine the type of resource. If you have any questions, get in touch with the Reference & Instruction Librarian at

Scholarly vs. Popular Quick Guide

Government Documents

Governments produce a wide range of publications that are meant both for technical experts and the general public. In general, technical data, department research reports, statistics, etc, are not peer-reviewed, but can be treated as authoritative information. Other government publications, like white papers and briefing notes are aimed at a general audience and are not considered to be scholarly. It is up to you to assess whether the government document is appropriate source material for your research.

Conference Proceedings

Conference proceedings present papers and presentations given at conferences. There is frequently confusion over this type of resource because they may appear in academic journals. Some conference proceedings are peer-reviewed while others are not. It is important to check if the research presented at a conference has gone on to be published, revised, or abandoned. You can check if the research is scholarly by looking at the publisher’s website or the conference website. If it is unclear please check with your instructor or a librarian.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses and dissertations are reviewed by advisers and faculty. But, they are not all subject to a peer-review process. Check the actual document to see if it mentions peer-review. You may also check the associated department website to see if the that particular university implements peer-review for its theses and dissertations.


Scholarly research is not only published in academic journals. Books that are published by university presses and educational or science units of commercial publishers may also be scholarly. To determine if a book has been peer-reviewed check the information about the editorial board which should be included either in the book or on the publisher’s website.


Databases are the primary way to search for scholarly journal publishing. However, many databases contain information that is not scholarly in nature. When you search you may receive newspaper articles, conference proceedings, videos, etc.

Most databases allow you to limit your results to only items that are peer-reviewed. Check to see if there is a place to select “peer-reviewed” on either the search page or the results page. Please be aware that limiting to peer-review is not available in every database. Additionally, do not become reliant on the peer-review checkbox. It is up to you to determine if a resource is suitable for your research.

Library Catalog

The library catalog is your access point for conducting research through the UJ library. The catalog allows you to search for online journal articles, books, eBooks, newspapers, and more. When searching under Everything or Articles & more, the catalog lets you filter your results to “Peer-reviewed journals.” Always verify by assessing the resource if it is actually scholarly and/or appropriate for your research.

Need more information?

Our team is ready to help. Please reach out with any questions.

Amanda Walch

  • Reference and Instruction Librarian
  • Instructor