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Evaluating Sources

Popular versus Academic Sources

When you evaluate information, you need to do it a little differently depending on the type of resource you're looking at, but how do you know the difference between an academic resource and a popular resource.

An academic/scholarly resource:

  • Is generally written by faculty members, medical doctors, and scholars for the purpose of scholarship
  • Uses technical language that is not intended to be understand by the general populace, but rather an expert in the field in which it is published
  • Often will go through the peer review process, which is intended to ensure the validity of the resource:

A popular resource:

  • Is ordinarily written by a professional journalist or writer, and is intended to be read by a general populace (rather than experts in the field)
  • Written in easily understood language and cover broader topics
  • Are not evaluated by experts in the field
  • Lack a list of resources that were referenced by the author during the writing process

Different Types of Publications

Identifying the type of publication can help you decide the type of information to expect from it. This list is not definitive, and there are always gray areas and exceptions to the rules. But, these are some general characteristics.

Publication Characteristics Table
  Scholarly Journals General Interest/News Popular Magazines
Graphics Graphs and charts to illustrate concepts Photos or illustrations mean to enhance article Photos or illustrations meant to enhance the magazine's attractiveness
Sources Cited sources with footnotes and/or bibliography Occasionally cited sources, but not as a rule Rarely cited sources, original sources may be obscured
Authors Scholars or researchers Freelance or scholarly writers usually knowledgeable of the topic Staff or freelance writers
Language Uses the vocabulary of the discipline Language appropriate for an educated readership Simple language meant to appeal to general audiences
Purpose To information the scholarly community of original research/findings To provide general information to a wide, interested audience To entertain, persuade, or sell products
Publishers Professional organizations or non-profit entities Published by commercial enterprises for profit Published by commercial enterprises for profit
Advertising Selective, often related to the discipline Generally contains advertising for national brands/products Contains extensive advertising
Examples New England Journal of Medicine Newsweek, National Geographic People, Better Homes and Gardens, Men's Health