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Research Guides

Earth and Space Sciences: What are Scholarly, Popular, & Trade Publications?

Scholarly, Trade, and Popular Sources


Cover of new media & society journal. Black with a graphic and white text.


Frontpage of the Washington Post with headline: Grahams to sell The Post


Cover of Advertising Age magazine with headline: 2017, The next five years: how we get from here to there.

Scholarly sources - books and journals - disseminate research and scholarly discussions among scholars (faculty, researchers, students) in a discipline. Read more about scholarly sources, including peer reviewed journals.   Popular sources - magazines, newspapers, broadcast news, blogs, etc. - inform and entertain the general public.   Trade publications are a combination of scholarly and popular sources that professionals in specific industries use to inform and share information about that industry with one another and those interested in the industry. 


What's the difference?


Journalism Practice journal cover, black with red text.


Cover of Rolling Stone magazine with the musical artist The Weeknd on the cover.


B & C trade cover with the headline Who's Got the News Mojo?

Purpose - why are they published?
To disseminate original research and scholarly discussions among scholars in a discipline.   To inform and entertain about current events and popular culture. To advance a profession or industry; to inform and share info about news, trends, technologies, best practices, and products for a specific industry or profession.   
Audience - who reads them?
Scholars, researchers, and students within a specific discipline.   General public. Members of a profession or trade.
Author - who writes them?
Scholars, professors, researchers, and professionals.  Their credentials are usually identified.     Journalists.  Author may not be named.   Professionals in the field; maybe be a journalist with subject expertise.  
Publisher - who publishes or produces them?
Scholarly book or journal publishers, university press, or professional association (National Communication Association - NCA) Usually commercial groups. Usually associations or commercial groups.
Content - what do they look like? Are they readable by many?

Mostly text; may have black and white figures, graphs, tables, or charts; few advertisements.  

Highly specialized; includes specialized vocabulary and jargon that is readily understood by researchers in the field, but not an average reader.  

Some text; glossy, color photographs; easy to read layout; lots of advertisements.  

General language is used; articles may be read and understood by most people.

Some text; photographs; some graphics and charts; advertisements targeted to professionals in the field.

Specialized; includes jargon that is best understood by professionals in the field.  

What are their Advantages?
  • Articles are usually evaluated by experts before publication (peer reviewed or refereed).
  • References, footnotes, or bibliographies support research and point to further research about the topic.  
  • Authors describe methods and provide data to support research results.  
  • Written for everyone.
  • Timely coverage of current events and popular topics.
  • Some have editors who fact check and approve the content before publication.
  • Timely coverage of industry trends.
  • Sometimes contain short bibliographies.
  • Shorter articles that are informal and provide practical tips and tricks.  
What are their Disadvantages?
  • Specialized vocabulary that can be difficult for non-specialists to read.
  • Research and review process takes time; not as useful for current events and technologies.  
  • Scholarly journals are expensive and may not be readily available.
  • Articles selected by editors who may know little about the topic.
  • Authors usually do not cite their sources.
  • Quick deadlines mean content review is limited; Stories may come from other sources (ex. wire services) making it difficult to review the content.
  • Published to make a profit; the line between informing and selling may be blurred.  
  • Not peer reviewed, although author is usually a professional in the field.
  • Use of specialized terminology may limit readability. 
  • Evidence drawn from personal experience or common knowledge not rigorous research.  
  • Articles may be biased to support an industry or company.

Credits:  Content on this page was adapted from LMU|LA's Scholarly, Popular & Trade Publications and VC|UHV's Finding Scholarly or Peer Reviewed Articles: Scholarly vs Popular 

Scholarly vs. Popular video

Information (Publication) Cycle

Information Cycle in the center of a circle that lists various information publishers.

When an idea, technology, or event enters the public consciousness, it is first reported through social media, news, and magazines.  

It can take a year or more for it to appear in scholarly journals, books, and reference sources. 

Depending on the newness of your topic, you may not find scholarly sources on your exact topic.  

Research topic example: Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear threat

Watch the Information Cycle: Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear threat video

This natural disaster occurred on March 11, 2011which is relatively recent in the information and publication world.  It has been covered in newspapers, magazines, and government documents, but fewer scholarly articles and books are available.

To find additional scholarly information, broaden your search for scholarly articles and books to cover the lasting impact of other tsunamis and nuclear problems that have occurred.   

  • japan AND tsunami AND nuclear
  • japan AND tsunami AND "Fukushima nuclear reactor"
  • tsunami AND (aftermath OR impact)
  • "nuclear reactor" AND meltdown
  • nuclear AND japan AND (reactor OR power)

Is your source scholarly, popular, or trade?

A stack of books

Not sure if an article is scholarly or popular?  Need to verify that a journal is refereed?  Search the  Ulrichsweb periodicals directory for the title of the publication in which the article was published to see if the Document Type is academic/scholarly.