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Communication Studies *: What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?

Research Guide for Communication Studies

Scholarly Journals versus Popular Publications

Below is a chart that can help you distinguish between a scholarly [a.k.a., peer-reviewed or academic] journal and a popular, general interest publication.









Scholar or researcher in field with stated credentials and affiliations

Staff writer, journalist, often a generalist

Staff writer, journalist often with expertise in field

Staff writer, journalist, columnist

Sources and Documentation 

All references cited; extensive bibliographies and/or footnotes

No formal list of references; original sources may be obscure

May refer to reports; no formal list of references

May refer to reports; no formal list of references

Editoral Process 

Peer-reviewed or refereed

Reviewed by a single editor

Reviewed by a single editor

Reviewed by a single editor


To present research findings and expand knowledge in a discipline or field

To inform about current or popular events, issues or popular culture; to entertain

To identify trends in a specific field or commerce; report on an industry and its related products

To inform about current events and issues internationally, domestically, and locally

Structure of Articles 

Long (10+ pages) articles with sections such as: Abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion

Mix of short with in-depth articles on a variety of subjects

Industry specific articles of varying length

Brief articles, unless feature

Frequency of Publication 

Annually, semi-annually, quarterly, or monthly

Monthly or weekly

Monthly or weekly

Weekly or daily


May contain the words "Journal of", "Review" or "Annals"; may contain the name of a discipline or field; may be lengthy

Straightforward; may address a general theme or subject

Usually short and catchy; may contain the name of a trade or industry

Usually reflects a geographic location

Print Appearance 

Book-like; primarily black and white; mostly dense text with few graphics; no ads

Very glossy and colorful; high impact visuals and design; some feature columns; many full page advertisements

Glossy with high impact graphics; regularly scheduled featured columns; pictorials of industry events; industry-related advertisements

Newsprint; lengthy and brief articles; regularly scheduled featured columns


Complex and academic; includes field-specific jargon

Simple and non-technical

Mix of jargon and technical

Mix of simple and sophisticated


Complex tables or graphs to display reseach data

Photos and colorful graphics for entertainment and visual impact

Colorful graphics and photos for emphasis

Photos and graphics for emphasis


Rare or none at all

Very frequent

Frequent, targeting a specific trade or industry


Intended Audience 

Scholars, academics, researchers, advanced students

General public

Industry members, professionals and stakeholders

General public, some with slant (for instance, Wall Street Journal for business people)