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Understanding Scholarly, Popular, and Trade Sources

The databases available through RSU Libraries index a variety of scholarly, trade, and popular sources. In order to complete your assignments successfully, it is important to understand the difference between each of these.

Scholarly sources

Scholarly, or "peer-reviewed" sources, are written by scholars for other scholars and students in a particular field, and undergo an extensive review process (peer-review) before they are published. For this reason, scholarly literature plays a central role in most academic disciplines, including history, the humanities, social sciences, and the hard sciences. If your professor requires that you use scholarly publications for an assignment, understand that there is no substitute for this type of source. If you have questions about whether or not a source is scholarly, ask your professor or librarian.

Trade sources

Like scholarly sources, trade sources are written for experts and students in a given field, but do not undergo a peer-review process before they are published. Although they are not scholarly in nature, trade publications can be excellent sources of information, and are used extensively in ever-evolving fields where research dates quickly, such as business and technology.

Popular sources

Unlike scholarly and trade sources, which are written for academic and professional audiences, popular sources are written for a general audience. The term "popular source" is used to describe everything from entertainment magazines like Maxim to highly regarded national newspapers, such as The New York Times. Quality popular publications can be great sources for academic research, so long as they are chosen carefully and used appropriately. The quality of popular sources varies greatly, so be selective about which ones you use for your assignments.