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Latin American Studies: Differentiating Between Scholarly and Popular Article Literature

An introductory guide to doing research in Latin American studies in the UCSD Library

Beyond Peer Review

One key way to identify scholarly articles is to determine whether or not they are peer reviewed.  Often, databases will even filter out Peer Reviewed articles for you.  See the Peer Review page on this Guide to Learn more.  In the event that an article is not peer-reviewed, there are some additional ways to decide how scholarly an article is.

What Should I Look For?

Scholarly vs. Popular Literature 

Popular literature is designed for people at large - with appropriate language level and reflecting the taste, trends, and interests of the general population. It could include anything from newspapers to the more sensational magazine offerings and is usually for entertainment purposes. Scholarly literature on the other hand, is concerned with research and academic topics and is a tool for sharing an authoritative opinion.

Scholarly journals also look different from the popular magazines.  For conveying scientific information, authors often use graphs, charts, or equations and use language that is standard for the field (and sometimes is not easy to fully grasp).  In a popular magazine, it will very often be flashy and glossy with pictures or illustrations but vew charts or graphs - and definitely, no equations.

 Comparing Scholarly Journals & Popular Magazines

  Scholarly Journals Popular Magazine
Advertising Few, if any, ads. Most ads will be for books, other journals, and academic conferences. Many slick ads for consumer products.
Appearance - Overall Sober and serious often presenting data or research results using charts, graphs, and equations. Flashy and glossy with many illustrations or pictures. Few charts and graphs. Definitely no equations.
Article Acceptance & Editing Uses a “peer review” or “referee” process, in which articles are reviewed by other experts in the field. Look for an “Instructions for Authors” section online at the journal's web page or look up the journal in Ulrich's Periodicals Directory. Articles are reviewed by the journal's editors before publication.
Article Length Varies, but often a very long paper. Generally shorter.
Article Structure Has an abstract, and often the abstract, like paper is structured into sections: introduction, methodology, results, and conclusions. Comparatively unstructured.
Audience Scholars, researchers, and students. Uses scholarly terminology and jargon. General public. Language is accessible to most readers.
Authors Experts in the field. The authors’ credentials, affiliations, and contact information are listed Reporters and freelance writers. Names and affiliations may not be listed.
References Includes extensive footnotes and/or bibliography. Rarely includes footnotes or bibliography.
What does it look like?

What are scholarly articles? 

Scholarly works have several very specific qualities that set them apart from the popular works like newspapers, Time, Newsweek, or even online sources like Wired. Unfortunately, there is no perfect definition as scholarly can have multiple meanings and may not always look exactly the same. The following are the commonly used descriptions of scholarly works.

  • Original Research or "Primary Source"
    Scholarly articles are ones that publish a researcher's original work. It will tell you: what, why, and how the researcher did the work; the results of the work; highlight some key data (often in figures,tables, or charts); and provide a discussion of the results and conclusions about the work.
  • Written by & for Experts in a Particular Field
    Scholarly articles are written by authors who have credentials and experience with the subject to alert other experts to what they found. Typically, the language used is the language of the field and may have the technical terms and jargon common to that field.
  • Published in a Journal Specific to the Field
    Many specialty areas have journals dedicated to that field, and this can be an indicator of its scholarly emphasis. For example, the following are a few journals that are well-recognized and specific to a particular field:
  • Peer-Review or Refereed
    Some articles undergo an additional process. Before acceptance and publication by a journal, a panel of experts (not the journal editor) will review & evaluate the article. Suggestions for changes are often made to clarify certain points or it could be rejected. The process is sometimes noted on the article itself with submitted, reviewed, accepted dates.

  • Some "Secondary Sources" can be Scholarly
    The previous points relate to journals and articles, but some books may also meet the definition of scholarly. Those texts that have editors and multiple authors are the most likely candidates as the sections have been written by experts in a particular field. You will also notice that every chapter has references.

What are the hallmarks of scholarly articles?

While you probably have never given much thought to scholarly articles and those qualities that make an article scholarly, if you think about it, you can probably think of a few things that are typical in scholarly works. A few of the characteristics include:

  • Author or list of authors and their academic credentials.

    and also, 

  • Institutional affiliations of the authors.

  • References of works cited in the article.

  • A structured abstract - mirroring the article sections of -- Introduction or Objective, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion.

  • Marks of the Peer-review process -- dates of submission, review, and acceptance.

Want to double check a journal? 

You can check the Ulrich's Periodicals Directory to see if the journal is listed as "refereed". After searching Ulrich's using the journal's name, look for the little icon that looks like a referee's shirt.