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BIOL 309 Genetics Class Guide

Finding popular sources

The following databases are some of the best places to find popular newspapers and magazines. Just be aware that the database often also contains scholarly sources, so refer to the criteria on this page to make your final decision.

Some databases allow you to refine your search so that only popular magazines, etc. will be displayed. Don't forget to check for that limiter!

Identifying Popular Sources

Depending on your information need, you may need materials from magazines, newspapers, or other popular sources. These titles, like Time Magazine or Newsweek are written for a more general audience and present scientific findings so that the average reader can understand. Here are some criteria to identify the popular type of resource.

  • Journal/Publisher information: Popular magazines are typically those that you already recognize and ones that are more likely to be on commercial newsstands. If you can find information on the publishing company, check to see if they are an independent company, who publishes a number of different and varying publications. These companies are the ones that typically produce popular titles.
  • Author: Typically authors are freelance writers or staff writers who do not have advanced degrees in that field. Popular magazines rarely give any information on them besides their name and do not provide contact information within the article itself.
  • Language: Articles in popular magazines typically use terminology that the average reader will understand. If they have to use a more complex term, they will take the time to define the term.
  • Citations: Popular sources typically don't provide citations of where they found their information. Though they may provide some book or article titles for additional reading on a topic.
  • Images: Popular sources use glossy photos and images to catch a readers eye and peak their interest in order to get them to read the article.
  • Advertisements: Popular magazines and newspaper usually contain advertising for more national/name brand products since they have a larger potential audience of general readers.

Some of our online databases will allow you to research the article's source (journal/publisher etc), through links directly in the record. The databases will sometimes also directly say whether a publication is scholarly (peer-reviewed) or popular.

Specialized Popular Titles

Some of the popular sources are more specialized than Newsweek or Time. Titles like Discover focus more specifically on the sciences than other popular press titles. Articles in these titles are still written for general audiences, but they can be a bit more detailed and use more specific terminology. Since they are popular sources, they typically don't have a reference or citation list, and the authors are not usually scientists, but instead are journalists.

You can find these sources by searching for the Title of the magazine in Discovery. Below are links to some of the more common magazines. 

Identifying the Reliable

Whether an article is scholarly or popular, it's always a good practice to check the reliability of each article before using it in a project. Here is a list to help you tell if an article is reliable, though the basic ideas in this list can work for any information source (e.g. websites or books). 

  • Who is the author of this information? Does the author have any sort of authority regarding the topic? Why are they presenting this information? Be aware that the author might have some sort of bias or alternative goal of misinformation. 
  • When was the information published? If the information is a book or article, check the copyright date to make sure that the information is up to date. A good website always indicates when the page was last updated. Out of date information is just as bad as information that is completely false. 
  • Where was the information located? Check the type of book, magazine, or URL. A scholarly journal or book has stricter standards than a popular book or magazine. If the website is affiliated with a recognized academic institution or organization, then it will usually be more trustworthy than a personal site. But, just because it is a .edu website does not guarantee reliability. Anyone affiliated with the school (include undergraduates) can create a personal webpage with a .edu URL.
  • Is the information consistent? Does the author(s) provide a list of where they got their information? These lists allow you to verify their research, along with providing you with additional resources pertaining to your topic.