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Researching COVID-19

Types of Literature

While there are many types of literature, we're going to focus on three types, popular literature, grey literature and scholarly literature. You will likely find there's a lot of popular literature, some grey literature, and little scholarly literature on COVID-19.

Popular Literature

news by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project

The majority of content on COVID-19 right now is popular literature. This is information that can be found in magazines, newspapers, blogs, podcasts and more. It is accessible, easy to understand and usually created for the general public. You don't need to be an expert to understand the content. This information is predominantly created by journalists and may or may not include sources.

Some signs to look for your article might be popular literature:

  • The content also includes ads within it directly or are around it.
  • A google search and the author is a journalist or a writer.
  • It is colourful, glossy or has pictures.
  • The articles are shorter and easy to read.

This information is helpful because it is usually the most recent information on a topic. It is information that can change as new information is found, and is not typically written by experts.Screenshot of CNN website. Identifies ads, clickbait, images, and journalist. These are things to look for to identify if something might be popular literature.

Some examples of popular literature

Grey Literature


Not all of the information that you need will be found in academic journals. In fact, most information about COVID-19 will be from what we call "grey literature". You may need to find professional guidelines, government reports, or trade publications. Grey literature can be found on various websites, including on the website of professional associations and organizations, and research institutes. This information is usually the most current and accurate information vs popular literature that is the most current but not the most accurate. Since this information can be published faster than traditional scholarly and peer-reviewed articles, evaluation is even more important. We'll learn more about evaluating information on the next page.

Note: The below video discusses grey literature and gives examples from a health perspective. However, grey literature exists in all disciplines, not just health-related.

Scholarly Literature


Scholarly or academic sources are typically the most reliable type of information. It is published by experts in the field, like the grey literature above, but has also gone through what is called the "peer review process" and adds an additional level of credibility and accuracy. The information is typically original research with a very specific research focus and the goal is to increase our understanding of the topic.

To identify a scholarly sources you are going to want to look for some helpful indicators.

  • Sections: Does it have an abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusion and reference section? If yes, this is good.
  • Visually: Does it have any ads or pictures? Or are the visuals graphs of data? Ads and graphics are usually a bad sign, unless the graphics are charts of data.
  • Publication: Is the article published in a reputable journal? A quick Google search should tell you. If yes, this is good.

Peer Review Process

authors write and send to publication, the publica

The peer review process is typically,

  1. Authors complete their study and write an article
  2. Submit the article for publication
  3. The publication sends the article to subject experts, these experts can then reject the article, send the article back to the authors for revision before publication
  4. Submit the article for publication.

So not only are these written by experts, but they are checked by other experts!

You may find that peer-reviewed articles are hard to come by in your search because this peer review process takes time. This also doesn't include all the time it took to collect their data and write it. Research can take months or even years. Medical research has additional layers of bench testing, lab testing, human testing and more.

Some examples of scholarly literature

Comparing Types of Literature

Think back to the information cycle on the last page. You will find popular literature near the start of the cycle, grey literature somewhere in the middle and scholarly literature near the end (but not quite the end). See the video below on comparing popular and scholarly literature, grey literature will fall somewhere between them. Then complete the exercise at the end.

Test Your Knowledge

Icon attributions: new created by Gregor Cresnar from Noun Project magazine created by Arthur Shlain from Noun Project academic created by hans draiman from Noun Project

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