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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

Offers detailed guidance on how to develop, organize, and write a college-level research paper in the social and behavioral sciences.

Types of Sources

There are three types of publications that may appear in the search results of most 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 other expects in the field 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, events, or phenomena.
  • Popular sources -- intended for a general audience of readers, they 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 specific citations to sources] to special interest, agenda-driven publications that are intended to persuade the reader to believe a particular way.
  • 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 Although generally written by experts, they are not considered scholarly because they are not peer-reviewed and do not focus on advancing new knowledge discovery or reporting research results except in the context of improving best practices and fostering innovation. Trade journals, however, are an essential source of information about emerging trends in the field of business and specialized industries [e.g., tourism, environmental studies, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.].

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

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.


Content Feature


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 and in-depth articles on a wide variety of subjects

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

Brief articles, unless a featured item; 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 may be 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; follows academic writing style; 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., Financial Times intended 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.