Scholarly material is produced by scholars/experts whose credentials can be evaluated. Aimed at other scholars, it disseminates specialized and discipline-specific information, often reporting on original research and experimentation. Scholarly information is a great choice for college students, though it can be challenging to read because of its scholarly language. Scholarly sources are often called academic or peer-reviewed.
Example: Journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association
Popular material is created by journalists, staff writers or freelance writers, and, sometimes, by enthusiasts. This type of information is aimed at the general public. It usually provides a broad overview of topics a general readership will find entertaining. Use popular material sparingly, if at all; for academic work you'll need to be sure to supplement it with articles from scholarly and substantive sources.
Examples: Magazines like People Weekly or Maxim.
Using information you find on the Web is a little different than using information found in traditional library resources such as books, magazines, journals, and newspapers. Why? Because:
The ABCs of Web Page Evaluation provide an easy-to-remember set of quick criteria to apply to any and all information you come across on the Web.
Who is presenting this information, and what are their related qualifications? Is there an individual author listed, or is the information coming from a group or organization? If an individual author is listed, can you determine if they have relevant education and experience? Can you verify his/her qualifications? If a group/organization authored the material, who are they? Are they a nationally recognized group? How long have they been around? Who is on their staff? How about their Board of Directors?
What is the purpose of this web site? Is it designed to present factual information as a public service, or is its purpose to persuade readers to adopt a particular viewpoint? Does it exist to make a profit? Researchers can use biased information as long as they proceed with caution. Put biased information into context (“According to the National Rifle Association, gun control fails in its fundamental purpose.”) and be sure to double-check statistics and “facts” from biased sights against reliable, non-biased sources.
Is the material current enough to support your research?
See the following table (MS Word) to help you distinguish between scholarly and popular sources.