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MONT 199C-S14: Dungeons, Dragons & Diversity (Santos)

Spring 2024

Scholarly and Popular Sources

Scholarly and Popular Sources

Scholarly and popular sources are two types of sources you may find and use in your research. They have different characteristics and purposes that will be reviewed in this section.

scholarly or peer-reviewed source has been written by an expert in the subject (ex., a professor or other researcher), and has been reviewed and approved by a group of other experts (their peers). It is written for an academic audience and will usually present original research in a specific field. The NC State Libraries provide an interactive diagram of a scholarly article that you can view to see the different components. An example of a scholarly source is a research study published in an academic journal. 

popular source is written for a wider, more general audience, and may provide a more broad overview of a topic. The author is not necessarily an expert in the specific subject and is usually a general journalist or freelance writer. These articles do not go through peer review and may be edited by a single editor or editorial board. An example of a popular source is an article in a magazine.

The chart below goes into more detail about how to distinguish between these two types of sources.

  Scholarly Sources Popular Sources
Author/Audience Written by scholars or experts in the field for other scholars (including students) and experts Written by journalists or freelance writers for a general audience
Writing Style Language is more technical and complex, assumes the audience is familiar with key concepts and terms in the field Language is more general and simple, may explain key concepts and terms, does not assume the reader already has knowledge about the subject
Review/Editing Process Reviewed by experts or peer-reviewed Reviewed by general editors
Subject Matter Often report original research in a specific field of study Often discuss current events and/or entertaining topics. One issue might cover many subject areas.
Illustrations Often have charts and graphs showing data from a study Often have colorful photographs
Advertising Has little or no advertising. Ads are typically for related journals, books, and conferences in the scholarly field. Has advertising, including for products and services that are unrelated to the article topic or field
Citations Have both in-text citations and a works cited list, reference list, or bibliography at the end of the article

Do not include citations or include few citations. Citations may be links to external sources and not in a formal citation style.

Examples New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Geoscience, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Annual Review of Psychology Time Magazine, The New York Times, Business Weekly, Psychology Today


What is Peer Review?

What is Peer Review?

When conducting research, you may be asked to find peer reviewed sources. Peer review is a process used by many academic journals to make sure they publish high quality research that has been vetted by experts. In peer review, researchers submit their manuscript to an academic journal for publishing. The journal editor then sends that article to a group of reviewers who are experts in the field. Those reviewers read the draft and look critically at things like the research methods, the structure of the manuscript, the quality of the research, and whether it is a good fit for the journal. Reviewers send feedback to the original researchers who can then edit the draft based on that feedback. At the end of this process, the reviewers recommend to the journal editor if the article should be published or rejected and the journal editor makes a decision based on the reviewers' feedback.

Peer review is not necessarily going to confirm that an article or study is factual or correct. Reviewers aren't reviewing for accuracy, but are checking that the methodology is sound and the conclusions are logical based on the information the author(s) provided. Journals use this process as a sort of quality control for what they publish - by having multiple experts look at a manuscript, they can filter out research that doesn't meet a journal's standards.

The Information Lifecycle

The Information Lifecycle

Different types of sources go through different publishing cycles. Some sources, like online news sources and social media, may be available immediately after an event. Others, like print newspapers and magazines, may take up to a few weeks. Scholarly sources like academic journal articles can take multiple years to publish, while books take even longer. We call this the information lifecycle.

Information lifecycle infographic. Day of event: Social media, blogs, online news, 24/7 news. Days/Weeks later: Newspapers, TV news, radio/podcasts. Weeks/Months Later: Magazines, newspapers, TV news, radio/podcasts. 1-2 Years Later: Scholarly journals, academic studies, books. 2+ Years Later: Encyclopedias, reference books, scholarly journals.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Note: This section is about primary sources used in humanities fields. The sciences use the term "primary research" to talk about reports of original research. See our Biology Research Guide for more information about primary research sources in the sciences.

You might be asked to incorporate primary source material in your research. A primary source is a first-hand witness to a historical event or period, created at that point in history. This can include articles, interviews, photographs, memoirs, correspondence, diaries, government documents, and more. Primary sources can give valuable insight into what was happening at a specific point in history as it happened, rather than looking at it through a present day lens.

You can find detailed information about finding and using primary sources in our Primary Source Guide.

Secondary Sources

secondary source is a source that was created after an event took place by someone who did not experience it firsthand. They provide descriptions, explanations, or analyses of the event that took place. This includes books, biographies, articles, documentaries, and more. A secondary source can include citations and references to primary sources but will build off those sources to provide new analysis or information.