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Information Literacy Strategies: Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Periodicals

In this guide you will find suggested strategies for finding, evaluating, and using information.

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Periodicals

Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. With a large periodical collection it is often difficult to distinguish between the various levels of scholarship found in the collection. The criteria for periodical literature have been divided into four categories:

Scholarly                                    Substantive News or General Interest                     Popular                         Sensational


Webster's Third International Dictionary defines "Scholarly" as

1) concerned with academic study, especially research
2) exhibiting the methods and attitudes of a scholar
3) having the manner and appearance of a scholar 

"Substantive" as

1.) having a solid base, being substantial

"Popular" as

1.) fit for, or reflecting the taste and intelligence of the people at large

"Sensational" as

1.) arousing or intending to arouse strong curiosity, interest or reaction

Using these definitions, in general, the criteria are as follows:

Scholarly Interest                                                                             Examples:

American Economic Review | American Journal of Nursing | Journal of Educational Research

Scholarly journals have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.

Scholarly journals always reference sources in the form of footnotes, endnotes or reference lists.

Articles are written by scholars in the field or by those who have done research in the field.

The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.

The main purpose a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation, in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly community.

Many are published by a specific professional organization

Substantive News or General Interest                                                                            Examples:

                      Discover | National Geographic | Scientific American

These periodicals may be quite attractive in appearance, although some are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs.

News and general interest periodicals sometimes reference sources, though more often do not.

Articles may be written by a member of the editorial staff, a scholar or a free lance writer.

The language of these publications is geared to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence.

The main purpose of periodicals in this category is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concerned citizens.

These are generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, though some emanate from specific professional organizations.

Popular Magazines                                                                            Examples:

                                            Readers' Digest | Time | Vogue

Popular periodicals come in many formats, although they are often somewhat slick in appearance with many graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.).

These publications rarely, if ever, reference sources. Information published in such journals is often second or third hand and the original source is sometimes obscure.

Articles are usually very short, written in simple language and are designed to meet a minimal educational level. There is generally little depth to the contents of these articles.

Articles are written by staff members or freelance writers.

The main purpose of popular periodicals is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers'), and/or to promote a viewpoint.

Sensational Periodicals                                                                                        Examples:

                                            Globe | National Examiner | Weekly World News

Sensational periodicals come in a variety of styles, but they most often use a newspaper format, with many graphics.

Their language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational. They assume a certain gullibility in their readers.

Arousing curiousity, catering to popular superstitions, or reporting celebrity "news" seem to be the intent of sensational periodicals. They often do so with flashy headlines designed to astonish (e.g., "Half-man Half-woman Makes Self Pregnant").