Skip to Main Content
Skip to content

COMM:1306 Understanding Communication - Humanistic Approaches: Popular vs. Scholarly

This guide will help students navigate the research requirements in COMM 1306: Understanding Communication - Humanistic Appraches, Darrel Wanzer-Serrano, Spring 2020

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Resources

Differences Between Non-Scholarly and Scholarly Resources

Non-Scholarly (Popular) Scholarly (Academic)
Author Journalist, layperson, or sometimes unknown Expert (scholar, professor, etc.) in field being discussed
Notes Few or no references/footnotes available Includes notes and/or bibliography
Style Written for the average reader Written for experts, uses subject-specific jargon, shows research
Editing Reviewed by people at the publisher Reviewed by editorial board of outside scholars (peer review)
Audience General public, people in stores/online Scholars and researchers in the field
Advertising Many ads, often in color Few or none; if there are any, they are for other scholarly materials
Look Eye-catching/interesting design, many pictures, color Plain, utilitarian, black and white, tables and charts
Contents Current events, general interest Specialized research topics only
Sample Titles The New Yorker, The Washington Post, National Geographic Harvard Educational Review, Journal of Environmental Law
Sample Article

"The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing" - The Atlantic, "Iowa City to launch a year of temporary sculpture installations" - The Daily Iowan

"Highly Efficient Reprogramming to Pluripotency and Directed Differentiation of Human Cells with Synthetic Modified mRNA" - Cell Stem Cell, "How Long is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension" - Science

Finding Popular Press Articles

There are a few ways to find popular press articles.

  • Search InfoHawk+ and our databases of popular press media, listed below. In InfoHawk+, Include your search terms, beginning with broad terms and then narrowing your results. For example, to research Wonder Woman fandoms, include "fandom" and "Wonder Woman" as the two search terms. Use quotation marks around phrases or names. Limit your results to magazines, if that is an option. Limit by publication years or locations or language, if necessary.
  • The Perch - This collection of magazines, newspapers, and journals is available across from the New Books section on the first floor of Main Library. You can connect to the resources digitally via the guide
  • Consult the references in a scholarly article - writers will often utilize both scholarly and popular articles when writing on a topic.
  • If you get stuck and can't find anything, it's okay to try a search engine like Google. You will have to look at the URLs and verify that your results are from published media, but you may be able to find articles this way. URL addresses that include names like or or, for example, would be useful popular press sites. 

Finding Scholarly Articles

Scholarly writing is typically evidence-based, formal writing that addresses a specific research topic. It is written by experts in their fields for other people in the field and includes citations and references.

  • Search InfoHawk+. Our catalog does a good job of listing books and some articles based on your queries. It does not catalog every database, so searching the databases specifically may produce different results. Limit by Peer Reviewed Journals. You can also limit by date or other criteria to help your search.
  • Search recommended databases (found on the next tab).
  • When you find an article of interest, remember to look beyond it. Does the database make recommendations of similar articles (usually in a side column)? Are there sources in the article's bibliography or references that would help your research? Just like you, a writer may reference both popular and scholarly articles.
  • Already know a journal you want to search? You can find it via e-journals. Enter the title, then browse the resource.

How to Read a Scholarly Article

Reading a scholarly article can be a little intimidating! They follow a unique format and can be quite lengthy. Use this guide to help get a quick understanding of the article before you invest your time in reading the entire piece.

Infographic on How to Read a Scholarly Article - Read abstract, conclusion, first paragraph, first sentence of each paragraph, then rest of article

Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for use or adaptation of materials. Used with permission. Original image at