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English Composition: Popular versus Scholarly

Research and resource guide for English Composition.

Characteristics of Articles - Is it Scholarly?

Questions to ask yourself


Professional / Trade

Popular/Human Interest/Journalistic

Who wrote the piece (credentials/background)?

Written by experts in the field, faculty, researchers or scholars

Written by someone with expertise in the field or personal experience in the field

Written by journalists, freelance writers or professional writers

Who is the audience for the piece?

Written for others in the field or those interested in researching the field

Written primarily for others in the same field or for an audience with a specific interest in the field

Written for the general public

What is the general tone of the piece?

Uses scholarly or technical language. Some terminology may be specific to the field.

Language is typically easy to understand with some terminology specific to the field

Language is easy to understand and pieces are typically written for the lay person

Are citations included (bibliography, references, works cited)?

Citations are included

Citations may or may not be included.

Citations are rarely included

Do articles go through a peer review before publication?

Often. Information about the publication indicates that articles are accepted by a peer-review process (reviewed by other scholars in the field).

Peer review may be limited to a professional editor employed by the publication.

Usually not (articles may go through editorial review but publication typically is not peer reviewed)

What is the physical appearance of the publication?

Usually plain with few color illustrations; advertisements limited to books and journal

Glossy paper with industry specific advertisements

Glossy with advertisements aimed at the general public

What is the layout of the article?

Often includes an abstract, literature review, info about the author(s), notes and citations, and the length tends to be longer than popular articles (usually 10+ pages). May have tables, graphs, formulas, photographs.

Tend to be shorter than research articles (less than 10 pages); can be scholarly in tone, but typically the thesis is more about experience or review rather than primary research by the author. May include a short citation list.

Tend to be shorter (less than 5 pages); may include eye-catching pictures and text. Usually do not see notes and citations.

How does one get a copy of the

Journal, magazine, or newspaper?

Usually purchased from the publisher or university press. Full text may be in a library database. Identified as “Academic” or “scholarly” in the database.

Usually from a professional society, conference proceedings, or university. May be identified as “Academic” or “Trade Publication” in a database.

Usually found at newsstands, bookstores, home delivery. Usually identified as “Magazine” or “Newspaper” in a database.

Examples of Serials

Journal of Education Research; Journal of Popular Culture

Advertising Age; Broadcast Engineering

Discover, Newsweek; Elle; Ebony