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Types of Sources - What's the Difference

Learn quick and easy criteria for differentiating between common source types often used for projects and research at the university.

Comparison of Article Types

Characteristics of General Interest Articles

A black line illustration of a to-go coffee cup

What is the purpose?
Provides information to a general, educated audience

Why use them?
Stay up-to-date on current events and issues; Find potential research topics

Who is it for?
For a broad readership ranging from high-school educated to company executives to university presidents

Who writes the article?
Often written by journalists or staff writers

Who reviews the article?
Articles have minimal review by editorial staff

What type of language or writing is used?
Common language aimed at a high school reading level; little use of formal language, jargon, or unique terminology

Are other sources and cited?
Occasionally sources are referenced in the article but rarely formated as a bibliography or footnotes

Are images and advertising included?
Very often photographs, illustrations, and graphs are used to enhance an article; heavy reliance on advertising that appeals to a broad readership

How often are issues of articles published?
Varies greatly and can range from daily to weekly to monthly

 

A general interest magazine is a periodical that contains articles written by professional writers and journalists. While these writers may have some expertise on the subject they are writing about, they are not scholars. Because these articles are written for a broad educated audience, they are usually easier to understand than articles in scholarly journals. Before they are published, these articles are also reviewed, but not by scholars. Rather, they are reviewed by professional editors working for the magazine, who may or may not have some expertise on the subject of the article.

Characteristics of Scholarly Articles

A black and white clipart graduation cap

What is the purpose?
To inform, report, and show original research, experimentation, and thought

Why use them?
To support your own research, opinion, hypothesis, writing, etc.

Who is it for?
The reader is assumed to have a similar scholarly background

Who writes the article?
Written by researchers and scholars

Who reviews the article?
Articles go through strict review process by peers within the discipline / subject

What type of language or writing is used?
These articles rely heavily on unique terminology, jargon, and language specific to the discipline

Are other sources and cited?
Sources are always cited as footnotes, endnotes, or reference lists (bibliographies)

Are images and advertising included?
Graphs, charts, and illustrations related to the research are used; typically no advertising but when used it is very selective

How often are issues of articles published?
Varies greatly and can range from monthly to bi-monthly to quarterly

A scholarly journal, sometimes called a research journal, is a periodical that contains articles written by scholars and experts in a particular subject field. Your professors are scholars in the discipline they teach. Because these articles are written by experts for other experts, they contain technical and specialized vocabulary (jargon). A scholar prepares an article and submits it to a journal. A review process, known as “peer review,” requires submitted articles to be reviewed by other scholarly peers (or equals) to determine if an article is published. When it works properly, the peer review process should ensure that only high-quality articles are published in a journal.


Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Click on the bubbles below to learn about the different parts of a scholarly article:

Characteristics of Trade / Professional Articles

A clipart image of a non-gendered person sitting at desk with a computer.

What is the purpose?
Provides news and trends in a field, but not original research; showcases leaders in the field

Why use them?
Stay up-to-date on trends, breakthroughs, and mover-&-shakers within a field; useful for job hunting or interviewing

Who is it for?
Written for practicing professionals in almost any field or industry

Who writes the article?
Written by industry professionals and experts

Who reviews the article?
While reviewed by editorial staff, they are rarely peer-reviwed

What type of language or writing is used?
Uses jargon or terminology specific to the field or industry

Are other sources used and cited?
Sources are often mentioned within an article but not typically formated as a bibliography or footnotes

Are images and advertising included?
Illustrations, charts, graphs, photographs and sometimes graphic art that is relevant to article; advertising aimed specifically to profession or industry

How often are issues of articles published?
Varies greatly and can range from daily to weekly to monthly

A trade publication is somewhere between a scholarly journal and a popular magazine. Articles in trade journals are written by and for people working in a certain field or discipline, for example, grocers, nurses, teachers, or business administrators. Article authors typically have some specialized knowledge, but are not scholars. Articles in trade publications are often easier to understand than articles in scholarly journals but are focused towards a specific group of people resulting in some use of professional terminology. Like articles in popular magazines, articles in trade journals are usually reviewed by professional editors.

Characteristics of Newspaper Articles

A clipart line drawing image of a newspaper. It doesn't look much like a real newspaper.

What is the purpose?
Provides current local and international news and special interest topics like travel, lifestyle, book & movie reviews, etc.

Why use them?
Stay up-to-date on what is happening in your community, the country, and world

Who is it for?
Written for a general audience

Who writes the article?
Written by staff reporters and columnists

Who reviews the article?
Reviewed by editorial staff and not peer-reviwed

What type of language or writing is used?
Uses general, everyday language and written for an 11th-grade reading level

Are other sources used and cited?
Sources are often mentioned within an article but news articles do not include a bibliography or footnotes

Are images and advertising included?
Illustrations, charts, graphs, photographs and sometimes graphic art that is relevant to article; advertising aimed to a general audience

How often are issues of articles published?
Varies; most often daily

Popular magazines

An image of a People Magazine cover from 2011. Steve Jobs is on the cover. It reads "The Life and Genius of Steve Jobs 1955-2011".Articles in popular magazines are kept short, with little depth and typically written to entertain or persuade a general audience; articles are written by staff or freelance writers. The heavy graphical format is focused on selling products or services.
Examples: Glamour; People Weekly; Reader's Digest; Sports Illustrated

Sensational magazines

Carrying little authority, articles in these publications are written in an inflammatory, sensational style. To arouse curiosity of readers, outrageous or startling headlines and photographs as well as melodramatic advertising are used.
Examples: Globe; National Enquirer; Star; Sun