Skip to Main Content
CWU Libraries logo
Ask a Librarian chat image Ask the Libraries

LIS 110 - Research Fundamentals

A guide to resources used and referenced in LIS 110

Scholarly (peer-reviewed), Popular, or Neither?

"Scholarly" and "peer-reviewed" are terms often used synonymously when describing print and Web resources of an academic nature. They include:

  • Articles published in an academic journal, such as Oregon Historical Quarterly. Academic publications are usually recognizable by the dry nature of their titles and presentation, though there are exceptions to this rule. A near-universal feature of peer-reviewed articles is an abstract at the beginning, or in the catalog record, which consists of a paragraph summarizing the author's methods, arguments, findings, etc.
  • Conference papers, book reviews, and other materials appearing in academic journals.
  • Most non-fiction books written by scholars or other experts, even though these may not be subject to the same peer-review process as articles.
  • Theses and dissertations

The term "popular" is used to refer to non-scholarly sources intended for a mass audience, though this does not necessarily imply that such sources are inferior to scholarly sources. Popular sources include:

  • Magazines, whether in print or online. This would apply equally to Vogue and The New Yorker.
  • Newspapers, whether in print or online. This would apply equally to The National Enquirer and The New York Times.
  • Wikipedia
  • Sites such as Psychology Today and WedMD that feature the work of experts, but are geared toward a general, non-specialist audience. The articles that appear on such sites are also not subject to a peer-review process as such.
  • Works of fiction (though these may well come up in an academic context; an example would be a thesis that analyzes gender roles in a film or classic novel).
  • Film documentaries

Some sources are neither scholarly nor popular, and may appear in either context. These include:

  • Government reports and documents
  • Primary documents, such as diaries, letters, speeches, audio recordings, parish registries, census data, etc.
  • Trade journals. These occupy a dubious niche, as they are written by experts, usually for an expert audience, but are not subject to a peer-review process. They concern trends and developments in a specific field or industry, such as brewing or mechanics.

What is peer review?

Peer review is a lengthy process that ensures what a journal publishes is featuring new ideas or discoveries, coming from a reliable source, and is a good fit for the intended audience of the journal. Along with ensuring the content is accurate and relevant, the peer review process also checks that the author's writing is clear and there are no spelling or grammatical errors and the format is correct.

For more information on the peer review process and how a journal publishes new articles, check out

What is a Scholarly Article?