Independent Research in Education (ED495a)

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    Click the links below for more information about distinguishing scholarly vs. non-scholarly sources.

    Trinity University - Distinguishing Scholarly Journals From Other Periodicals

    Cornell University - Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals

    Scholarly vs Non-Scholarly Publications

    Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between various levels of scholarship, especially in an online article database. In this guide, the criteria for periodical literature is divided into four categories (in order here from the most credible to the least):

    1. Scholarly
    2. Substantive News or General Interest
    3. Popular
    4. Sensational


    Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines “scholarly” as: 1) concerned with academic study, especially research, 2) exhibiting the methods and attitudes of a scholar, and 3) having the manner and appearance of a scholar.

    “Substantive” is defined as “having a solid base, being substantial.”

    “Popular” means “fit for, or reflecting the taste and intelligence of the people at large.”

    “Sensational” is defined as “arousing or intending to arouse strong curiosity, interest or reaction.”

    Keeping these definitions in mind, and realizing that none of the lines drawn between types of journals can ever be totally clear cut, we can say that, in general, the criteria are as follows:



    Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.

    Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies.

    Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field.

    The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.

    The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.

    Many scholarly journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization.

    College English
    Contemporary Literature
    JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association
    Journal of Black Psychology



    These periodicals may be quite attractive in appearance, although some are in newspaper format. Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs.

    News and general interest periodicals sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.

    Articles may be written by a member of the editorial staff, a scholar or a freelance writer.

    The language of these publications is geared to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed, only interest and certain level of intelligence.

    They are generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, although some emanate from specific professional organizations.

    The main purpose of a periodical in this category is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concern citizens.

    National Geographic
    New York Times
    Scientific American


    Popular periodicals come in many formats, although often somewhat slick and attractive in appearance. They include lots of graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.).

    The publications rarely, if ever, cite sources.

    Information published in such journals is often second or third hand and the original source is sometimes obscure.

    Articles are usually very short, written in simple language and are designed to meet a minimal education level. There is generally little depth to the content of these articles.

    Articles are written by staff members or freelance writers.

    The main purpose of popular periodicals is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers’), and/or to promote a viewpoint.

    People Weekly
    Reader’s Digest
    Sports Illustrated


    Sensational periodicals come in a variety of styles but often use a newspaper format.

    Their language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational.

    They assume a certain gullibility in their audience.

    The main purpose of sensational magazines is to arouse curiosity and to cater to popular superstitions.

    They often do so with flashy headlines designed to astonish.

    Most libraries do not subscribe to sensational periodicals.

    National Examiner
    Weekly World News






    Evaluating Websites

    Although the Internet is a good way to get a sense of what is out there, you will need to go further before investigate using its information in your papers. Critically evaluate each website and question the following:

    Authority - Is the website based on reputable and reliable sources? Is there a bibilography?  Are there citations?  Is the author of the website an expert on this subject?  

    Objectivity - Is the website free of bias?    Who is responsible for the website? Are you getting an educated version of this topic, or is it just opinion?

    Currency - Has the page been updated recently enough so that it reflects the most current data? Is there a date to indicate that this page is regularly evaluated and maintained?

    Coverage - Does the website have valid information on the topic?  Is it free of typos and errors?  Does the page have a professional look and free of advertising? Are there links to other worthwhile websites?