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COM101/111: Introduction to Research & APA Citation

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

You'll find that there many types of sources available on your research topic, such as eBooks, articles, websites, and videos. However, not all sources are created equal. Some sources are acceptable to use for college assignments, while some may be better for entertainment or personal research.

When we talk about types of sources, one way we can group them is into scholarly or popular. Depending on your assignment, you may be asked to use one or both types of sources.

Types of Sources

Information comes in many different formats. Some types of resources are academic, while others are popular. Understanding the various types of sources will make it easier to plan your research. Click below to learn more about the various types of information sources.

Why use books/ebooks? Books provide overviews, background, history and introductions as well as in-depth examinations of topics. They are useful when you are looking for in-depth information on a topic, or background overview of a subject area.

Take note that it takes time to write and publish a book. First, the author researches the topic, then they write a draft. The unpublished manuscript is then sent to a publisher to be edited, rewritten, and finally published. This can be a long process which explains why a book that is released in 2021, would likely not contain the most up-to-date information.

Why use journal articles?Journal articles are highly credible sources which are written by professors, researchers, or scholars (e.g., historians) for other professors, researchers, and scholars. Journal articles are also used by post-secondary students to gain a better understanding and learn about latest research findings on a topic. Journal articles usually report on results of original research and discuss very specific topics. You can access many journal articles for free through Library Search or the library's databases.

Journal articles are often referred to as scholarly, research, or peer-reviewed sources. Peer-review refers to a form of quality control where subject experts first review and approve the article before it gets published. This process increases the credibility and quality of information presented in a journal article. However, it's important to remember that not all journal articles are peer-reviewed. Journals also contain content that is not peer-reviewed such as book reviews and editorials

Additional Resource

Why use trade magazine articles? Trade articles are good if you're looking for more practical information related to a profession or trade. Trade magazines publish articles aimed at people working in a particular field. The content focuses on information about working in the profession, trends, and news related to that field or trade, rather than academic research. They are often published by professional associations and written by authors who work in or have expertise on the trade/profession. As a result, authors will use language and terms that are familiar to those already within the trade.

What are some examples?

Why use magazine articles? Popular magazines can provide you background and current information on general interest topics. Popular magazine articles cover different points of view on current issues (e.g., politics, economy), pop culture (e.g., celebrities), and general-interest topics (e.g., sports, lifestyle). They can be written to entertain, inform, advertise, or present a viewpoint. The articles are usually written by a staff writer or journalist who may or may not have subject expertise. They tend to have simple, informal language since they are written for a general audience. Articles are not long and often have images / advertisements. They also don't have citations, but could mention names of sources and individuals interviewed.

What are some examples?

  • Maclean's
  • The Economist
  • Rolling Stone
  • Vogue

Why use newspaper articles? Newspaper articles provide you with an account of current events locally, nationally, or internationally. Articles are usually authored by journalists who may or may not have subject expertise. Articles are mainly written for the general public and generally not long. You'll likely not find citations or a reference list, but the article may mention the name of their sources or individuals interviewed. 

What are examples of newspapers?

  • Toronto Star
  • The New York Times
  • The Globe and Mail

Grey literature refers to materials published non-commercially. These materials can be made available by the government, academia, non-for-profit, business and trade organizations, in print and digital formats. Examples of grey literature include:

  • Conference proceedings
  • Reports (e.g. statistical, technical, committee reports)
  • White papers
  • Flyers
  • Newsletters
  • Fact sheets
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Patents
  • Unpublished materials

Why use grey literature? It is sometimes more current than published research, and it is a great way to supplement your research, providing your project with a full picture viewpoint. You can find grey literature online, by searching Google (or another search engine), and/or Google Scholar.

Why use websites? Websites provide information on a wide range of topics. There are many websites you'll encounter when searching your research topic. Since websites have different purposes, it's important to evaluate them to ensure that they are credible sources. One tool which you can use to evaluate websites is the CRAAP test. Here are some examples of websites you might find:

Website Type Purpose
  • to showcase their work (e.g., portfolio, online resumé)
  • to communicate a message (e.g., blog)
  • to market their business and products/services
  • to inform customers about the business
Non-profit groups
  • to promote their cause
  • to provide general information on their cause
  • to share reports and research studies they have written
  • to inform citizens about government news, services, and other important topics
  • to communicate government research and reports

Why use social media?  Social media posts can be a great source of background and timely information on a topic. For example, you may find social media posts which include information or links to the latest news and research findings on your topic. Since anyone can share information through social media, it's important to evaluate information to make sure that it's credible. Examples of social media include:

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Wikis - collaboratively edited sites
  • Discussion forums - conversations on a specific topic

Adapted from Research: Know your Resources from The Learning Portal 

What are Peer-reviewed Articles?

Peer-reviewed journal articles go through a peer-review process where a group of subject experts review and approve/reject the article for publication. The subject experts generally evaluate the quality of writing, research methods used, how the results are presented, and how the findings contribute to the knowledge about the topic.

Take note that not all articles found in journals are peer-reviewed. For example, you may find articles such as book reviews and editorials which do not undergo the peer-review process.


Format of Peer-reviewed Articles

Peer-reviewed articles are found in scholarly journals and usually follow a consistent format. Some of the most commonly found sections in peer-reviewed articles are:

  • Abstract: Sometimes also called a summary. It identifies the focus of the article. This is a good starting point if you're trying to determine if the article would be relevant to your research question/topic.
  • Introduction: It often covers the "why" and provides some information on the purpose of the research, its importance, and its contribution to current knowledge of the topic. The introduction may also contain a literature review which discusses research that has already been done on the topic.
  • Methods: Discusses how the authors conducted their research study, such as the materials and methods that they used.
  • Results: This discusses what the authors found in their study and can include statistics, graphs, charts, figures, and tables.
  • Discussion: This section is where authors interpret and analyze their results.
  • Conclusion: Authors can write about what they learned, the importance of their findings, the strengths and weakness of their research, and other recommendations they may have for future research on the topic.
  • References: Section at the end of the article that lists the sources the authors cited

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