Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Research 101: Library Research Basics

Popular vs. scholarly sources

Popular or Scholarly? What's the Difference?

Popular sources:

  • include magazine, newspaper, and most web articles
  • authors are journalists or reporters
  • articles range from a paragraph (news blurb) to a few pages (magazine editorial)
  • topic and language target a general, wide-ranging audience 
  • sources may be referenced or hyperlinked, but often not formally cited
  • articles are on current events or popular topics

Photo of front page of New York Times

Image of the popular newspaper, The New York Times, by Marcus Spiske via unsplash.com.

Scholarly sources:

  • include research articles published in peer-reviewed journals and some academic books
  • authors are subject experts or researchers
  • content is many pages long and written with subject-specific or technical language
  • often include charts, graphs, or statistics
  • topic targets a specific audience, usually other researchers in an academic field
  • sources are cited in footnotes or lengthy bibliographies

Screenshot of first page of a research article "Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults"

Screenshot of a research article published in Journal of Happiness Studies via EBSCOhost.

How to Read a Scholarly Journal Article

Parts of a Scholarly Journal (A.K.A. Academic or Peer-Reviewed) Article

Most research articles follow a similar structure and include the following sections. Understanding the different sections of a scholarly article will help you to better understand how to skim and read these types of articles.

  • Abstract: A quick summary or overview of the article.
  • Introduction: Introduces the reader to the research topic or question. This will sometimes include an overview of what has already been written about the topic and is referred to as a “Literature Review.”
  • Methodology/Research Methods/Research Design: This section discusses how the researcher(s) did their testing and often includes their sample size and data collection methods.
  • Results: This section will include the raw data from the research study, often in the form of charts, graphs, and tables.
  • Discussion: Here is where the author discusses, analyzes, and interprets the results (raw data) and overall implications.
  • Conclusion: Not always included, but here is why authors draw conclusions from their studies and sometimes discuss further applications or related research questions.
  • References: All scholarly researchers must always cite their sources, just like you! The references list is where you can see all the sources referenced by the article’s author(s).