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POSC 130g: Law, Politics, and Public Policy

Types of Sources

There are three main types of publications that may appear in the advanced search results of many social and behavioral sciences databases. These are:

  • Scholarly sources -- intended for use in support of conducting in-depth research, often containing specialized vocabulary and extensive references to sources. The content has been reviewed by academic peers to ensure the reliability of methods used and the validity of findings. Scholarly sources help answer the "So What?" question in academic writing and lay the foundation for discovering connections between variables, issues, or events.
  • Popular sources -- intended for a general audience of readers and are written typically to entertain, inform, or persuade. Popular sources help you answer who, what, when, and where questions and are essential for finding information about current events or issues. Popular sources range from research-oriented [but lacking complete citations to sources] to special interest, agenda-driven publications.
  • Trade publications -- intended to share general news, trends, and opinions among practitioners in a certain industry or profession. Although generally written by experts, they are not considered scholarly because they do not focus on advancing new knowledge discovery or reporting research results and are not peer-reviewed. Trade journals, however, are an essential source of information in the field of business and specialized industries [e.g., tourism, environmental studies, agriculture, etc.].

Adapted from text originally created by Holly Burt, Behavioral Sciences Librarian, USC Libraries, April 2018.

Scholarly Journals versus Popular Publications

Below is a chart developed by the USC Libraries instruction team that can help you distinguish between a scholarly [a.k.a., peer-reviewed or academic] journal article and a popular, general interest publication. Note that trade journals are an important type of resource in business and industry intended to inform practitioners and professional leaders about current news and trends in a specific area of manufacturing, service, or other trade activity. They are not considered scholarly because the articles are not reviewed by scholars before publication.



Popular Magazines

Trade Journals



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 sources cited; extensive bibliographies, list of references, or notes

No formal citations; original sources may be obscure

No formal citations; may refer to reports; may include a bibliography

May refer to sources in text; no formal list of references

Editorial Process

Blind peer-reviewed [i.e.,  refereed] by multiple experts in the field

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 specific field of study

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

To inform those working in the profession of events, products, techniques, and other professional issues.

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

Structure of Articles

Lengthy (10+ pages) articles divided into specific sections, such as, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion

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

Industry specific articles of varying length; report news and trends but no original research

Brief articles, unless feature; may include original research written in a journalistic, investigative style

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 of" or "Annals"; may contain the name of a discipline or subject area; may be lengthy

Straightforward; may address a general theme or subject; may be one word

Usually short and catchy; may contain the name of a trade or industry [e.g., Grocery Store News]

Simple; usually reflects a city or geographic location

Print Appearance

Plain covers that vary little from issue to issue; primarily black and white; mostly dense text with few graphics; pages consecutive throughout each volume

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 discipline-specific jargon or technical terms

Simple and non-technical

Mix of jargon and technical terminology

Mix of simple and sophisticated


Complex tables or graphs to display research data; may have appendices

Photos and colorful graphics for visual impact or entertainment

Colorful graphics and photos for emphasis

Photos and graphics for emphasis


None, or limited to books, other journals, and professional meetings

Very frequent

Frequent, targeting a specific trade or industry

Very frequent

Intended Audience

Scholars, researchers, scientists, advanced students

General public

Industry members, professionals, and associated stakeholders

General public, some with specialization (e.g., Wall Street Journal for readers in business)

Value and Usefulness in Research

Critical to understanding and analyzing a topic in detail and to design a coherent, well-organized original research study

Limited; news magazines, such as, Time are useful for following current events

Limited to understanding news and trends in specific industries and professions

Essential to following current events; provides local coverage of issues


Chapmana, Julie M., Charlcie K. Pettway, and Steven A. Scheuler. “Teaching Journal and Serials Information to Undergraduates: Challenges, Problems and Recommended Instructional Approaches.” The Reference Librarian 38 (2002): 363-382; Cockrella, Barbara J. and Elaine Anderson Jayneb. “How Do I Find an Article? Insights from a Web Usability Study.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 28 (May-June 2002): 122-132; Usdansky, Margaret L. “A Weak Embrace: Popular and Scholarly Depictions of Single-Parent Families, 1900 - 1998.” Journal of Marriage and Family 71 (May 2009): 209-225.