Popular, Scholarly, and Trade Sources

Introduction

University-level assignments often ask you to locate Scholarly or Trade literature on your topic. While you might not have heard these terms before, telling the difference between a scholarly journal and a popular press source (like a magazine or newspaper) is actually quite easy. This chart will help you figure it out.


Criteria Popular Scholarly Trade
Purpose(Intent) To inform, entertain, or persuade about current events or popular opinion and to make money To inform, report, or make available original research, promote scholarly communication, or advance knowledge To provide news, trends, or practical information or examine problems or concerns in a particular field, trade, or industry
Audience General public Scholars, researchers, and students of specific discipline or field Practitioners of a particular field, trade, or industry
Creator Professional writers, journalists, freelance writers or creators that deal with a variety of topics regularly Scholars or researchers with extensive credentials and experience in the specific discipline or field and usually associated with a university or other organization Professionals or freelance writers or creators with experience in a particular field, trade, or industry
Language (Tone) Entertaining, non-technical language Specialized terminology or jargon from the specific discipline or field Specialized terminology or jargon used in the field or industry
References Sources rarely cited Sources always cited Sources occasionally, but not usually cited. This depends on the publication.
Accountability Content not evaluated by experts in the field; often published or produced by commercial organizations Usually reviewed and critically evaluated by a subject expert or board of subject experts (peer review); published or produced by a scholarly organization or society (university, association, commercial enterprise, etc.) Content may be evaluated by experts in the field; often published or produced by a trade association

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Additional Questions and Help

If you tried to use this chart and continue to have problems identifying what kind of sources you are working with, you could try asking a librarian or coming to a service desk for help.

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Creative Commons License

Popular, Scholarly, and Trade Sources by C. Ferrance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.