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This Research Guide provides information about biology resources found in the CCCC libraries and online.

Popular versus Scholarly Sources

Open Book IconWhat's in them?

The results of a study, experiment, or any other kind of disciplined scholarly research.

Icon representing staffWho writes them?

Scholars: faculty, researchers, laboratory staff, and graduate students.

Helpful hint! Look for a University Affiliation in the author's bio in an article.  If they work at a university or college, they're probably a scholarly author!

Icon representing the readerWho reads them?

Other researchers in the field, including students just learning about research and professors working on their own areas of study within the field.

Graduation Cap iconWhen should you use them?

  • When your instructor has required scholarly sources
  • When you need evidence to back up an argument
  • When you want to be sure the information you're using is valid 

Multiple documents iconWhat do they look like?

  • length: usually more than 5 pages
  • citations: use appropriate citations and include a works cited list 
  • vocabulary: use technical or discipline-specific language (often called jargon)
  • images: include very few images, mostly charts, tables, and graphs rather than photos
  • journal: title is specific and subject related, pages are not glossy, none or very little advertising

What's in them?

Entertaining or generally informative articles about a variety of subjects.

Who writes them?

Journalists who have conducted interviews or research to learn about the topic, but who are not scholarly experts in the field.

Who reads them?

 A general audience.  The writing should not require specialized expertise to read.

When should you use them?

  • If you need basic facts or background information to get started learning about your topic
  • If you want to understand a very recent current event 
  • For fun!

What do they look like?

  • citations: very rarely include citations, but when they do, the formatting is not correct.
  • vocabulary: use every day language (some more specific popular magazines, like The Economist might use technical jargon, but will often explain or define it when they do).
  • images: lots of pictures
  • magazine: glossy pages and lots of ads

Watch out: Popular magazines cover a lot of subjects, and can be formatted in a variety of ways.  The tips listed above will not be true 100% of the time.  Critical thinking about audience and authorship are important when trying to identify popular articles!


Library Lingo

Audience Icon

Peer Review: The process that scholarly articles must under go to be published. When an author submits their article to an academic or scholarly journal, it is then sent to other experts in their field (knows as their peers) to be reviewed. If those experts agree that the article contains good information and is based on a sound study or experiment, then it can be published.

What is a Scholarly Article?

This video from Coastal Carolina University's Kimbel Library link will open in a new window will help you learn to recognize scholarly articles.

How to tell if something is C.R.A.P.

Calendar IconCurrency

Scholarly information should be current.

When evaluating an article, find the date of publication.  In certain fields, anything older than five years is not considered current.


Relevance Circle GraphRelevance

Information you find should be relevant to your topic.

Does it...

  • Apply directly to your topic?  Does the whole article apply, or only small parts?
  • How detailed is the information?



Check mark IconReliability

Is the information reliable?  Can you count on it being true?  

Check for...

  • References and citations
  • Peer-review status
  • Is it consistent with the other information you've found?  If not, does it acknowledge this discrepancy and explain it?
  • Is there any potential for bias from the author?

Author IconAuthority

Make sure you can identify the author of the article and they have the authority to write on the subject.  Anyone can share their opinion online--but you're looking for experts!

So, identify...

  • How many authors?
  • What are their credentials (degrees, jobs at universities)?
  • Have they written other articles or books on related subjects?
  • Is their any potential for bias?

Informational Bulls eye IconPurpose

Why was the article written?  Can you tell?  Knowing what an author hoped to do or gain by writing and publishing an article tells you a lot about how useful it is in an academic setting.

Ask yourself...

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the article meant to inform, entertain, persuade, sell, aor add to an already existing scholarly conversation?
  • Does the article share the results of a study, experiment, or analysis?

Activities to get you started


Need Help? Icon


Need a little extra help?

Contact your librarian.