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BIO 205: Ecology: Scholarly vs. Popular sources

Resources and information for disciplines that intersect with ecology

Scholarly or Popular?

The following chart can help you determine the quality of the material you find by understanding the typical characteristics of the type of publication.




Written by scholars and researchers in a specific field.

Written by professional or free-lance writers or occasionally by a well-known scholar.

The author(s) name appears at the beginning or end of the article. The author(s)’ credentials are often included.

Articles are often written by staff writers. The author’s name does not always appear in the article.



Written in technical and scholarly language understood by researchers, professionals, and students in that field.

Written for a general audience.


Always includes a bibliography (a list of sources or citations).

Rarely includes a bibliography or notes.


Focuses on academic study and research in the field.

Deals with general interest and current topics.


Also called “academic,” “scholarly,” or “peer-reviewed.” The articles generally have a serious look. They often contain results of experiments—graphs, charts and photographs. Few or no ads.

The articles generally have glossy photos and illustrations. Includes many ads for consumer goods. Articles are informative but not scholarly.


Scholarly journals will contain both primary and secondary research.

Articles in popular publications are generally considered secondary sources.


Research articles are usually submitted for peer review.

Not peer-reviewed; reviewed by the publication’s editorial staff.


Identified in subject-specialized indexes and databases. Eg.: BioOne, PubMed, PsycInfo, MLA Bibliography, Historical Abstracts, etc.

Identified in general periodical indexes & databases such as Academic Search Premier, Academic Onefile, etc.


Journal of Experimental Biology,
Shakespeare Quarterly,
Journal of Educational Research, 

The Economist 
National Review

National Geographic
Psychology Today
, etc.

Ulrich's Global Serials Directory

Ulrich's gives detailed information about periodicals, including the peer-reviewed scientific journals you'll use for this project.  Look up a journal in Ulrich's for quick information about publishers, impact factor, and peer-review status. 

Limiting your Search

Many databases offer checkboxes that allow you to limit your search to "Scholarly" or "Peer Reviewed" articles.  While this option is very helpful, it does not necessarily guarantee that the results will be peer-reviewed... so you will still have to use your evaluative skills to make the call!

More on Evaluating Resources

How do you evaluate resources in depth?  What questions should you ask?  Here is an excellent, detailed guide from UC Berkeley Libraries.