How do I know if a source is popular?

Articles published in magazines and newspapers are written for a general audience. Sometimes library databases will include articles from both scholarly sources( e.g. scholarly journal articles) and popular sources (e.g. magazine and newspaper articles), so you need to be able to differentiate between the two.

General characteristics of popular sources include:

  • Do not contain original research
  • Sometimes articles will contain summaries and popular representations of research (popular sources are meant to be accessible to a non-specialized audience)
  • Do not require (or assume) specialized knowledge
  • Articles are easy (or easier) to read and understand.
  • Specialized vocabulary (jargon) is explained / defined, or not used
  • Pictures are common, and are used in a decorative sense
  • Images are used to entice the reader and/or to make the article (and its content) more appealing.
  • Advertisements are prominent
  • Funding for most (if not all) popular sources is derived from advertising. This means that ad content will be mixed with actual content.
  • Bibliographies are generally not included
  • It is not standard for popular sources to include a list of sources used to create content.
  • It is common to see statements attributed to a nameless source (e.g. “Sources report…”). Also, statistics are commonly used without attribution (e.g. “Researchers found that 64%…”).

When/Why do I use a popular source?

  • When you need to understand a complex topic.
  • Popular articles contain summaries and popular representations of research, making it accessible to a non-specialized audience.
  • When you need information on a current event.
  • Newspapers and magazines provide current event awareness and general interest information geared towards a non-expert audience.
  • When you need information specific to a locale.
  • Newspapers provide local information for the geographic areas with which they are associated.
  • When you need get a sense of opinions on an issue.
  • Newspapers and magazines include opinion articles and editorials, providing a window into the way people perceive and interpret events

Test: Popular

Explore the image below — mouseover the targets to learn more about the anatomy of a popular article. This example uses a magazine article, but the elements discussed also apply to websites, newspapers, and some books.

Mower, Sarah. "View: Sustainable Style—Shopping Consciously: Attention, Shoppers." Vogue. May 01 2007: 121,121, 122, 124. The Vogue Archive. 30 Jan. 2013 .

Many popular articles will display the names of the author and editor. In this example, the editor's name is much easier to find than the author's (you can find it under the title).

This article is part of a recurring series in the "VIEW" section of the magazine.

Popular sources are often at least partially funded with advertisements, sponsorship, and/or product placement.

You can tell by the title of this article--"attention, shoppers"--that this is not a technical, scholarly article.

Most titles are descriptive enough to provide a sense of the article's content and style.

*Notice that the author's name is found as a part of the tagline (the text leading the reader from the title to the article).

NEXTLast Updated: Aug 9, 2016 4:50 PM URL: http://subjectguides.library.american.edu/infolit Print Page Login to LibAppsReport a problem. Subjects: College Writing Popular publications are often published monthly, weekly, or daily. Also, each issue begins at page 1.

Popular sources do not contain original research, but sometimes contain summaries and popular representations of research, making it accessible to a non-specialized audience.

This statistic was not created through original research performed by this article's author (or editor).

Popular sources are often at least partially funded with advertisements, sponsorship, and/or product placement.

Popular sources are often at least partially funded with advertisements, sponsorship, and/or product placement.

Images are used to entice the reader and/or to make the article (and its content) more appealing.

Popular sources are often at least partially funded with advertisements, sponsorship, and/or product placement.

This article has another author listed. Unlike scholarly articles, it can be difficult to determine the (correct) author of a popular source.

Popular sources are often at least partially funded with advertisements, sponsorship, and/or product placement.

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