It is nearly impossible not to categorize information. Categorized information allows us to make quick assumptions about the information’s intended audience, authorship, content, language, and purpose. These judgments help us to choose the correct information type to meet our academic, professional, and personal information needs. Publication, material, and format type are three ways to categorize information. Over the next three lessons, we will discuss these three types and how to identify them and their benefits and drawbacks.
Publication types include popular, scholarly, and trade sources. Professors will often assign a minimum or maximum number of sources from each publication type. For example, a professor may require you to retrieve at least five sources from scholarly publications like academic journals or not allow the use of any popular publications. The sections below will help you distinguish a publication as popular, scholarly, or trade.
Popular information informs and entertains the reader. Magazines like Macleans, and Time, newspapers like the Globe and Mail, and books like an unofficial Michael Jackson biography are examples of popular publications. A popular publication will contain language easily understood by a general audience. They are usually written by journalists or freelance writers and do not undergo a formal review by experts before release. Popular publications generally do not have full citations for information used to write the piece.
Sometimes popular information is desirable for research. Magazines and newspapers include non-technical language and are usually jargon-free for easier reading. They tend to cover issues with relatively brief, broad overviews. Popular publications can be a good place to learn the basic components of a topic, to understand the varying viewpoints surrounding an issue, or to discover potential angles to explore with deeper research. Often, popular publications report on existing research or provide context to news stories that reflect the general interest perspectives of an issue. Newspapers particularly are useful for research on local issues that may not receive much, if any, coverage outside of the region. Popular sources are great for current information because their publication cycle is more frequent than scholarly sources.
Benefits → current events, popular opinions, local issues, broad overview of a topic
Drawbacks → not evaluated by experts, topical coverage of an issue
Scholarly information is often required for university-level research assignments. Professors favor the use of scholarly publications, found in academic journals or books, because they are a highly credible source of information to cite. These publications typically consist of original research and studies. Scholarly publications also contain expert analysis on topics or issues; for example, a work of literature or a problem facing society. Many of them are peer-reviewed before publication. Peer-reviewed means the work undergoes a series of reviews by other experts in the field to ensure quality, credibility, and accuracy of the information.
Experts in a field write scholarly information for other experts or academics to read and advance the knowledge of the field. The information can sometimes be difficult to understand for non-experts. Scholarly publications often use technical and scientific terminology and assume prior knowledge of the subject matter. In addition, they tend to be longer and more in-depth than popular or trade information and focus on specific aspects of an issue rather than a broad overview. Virtually all scholarly publications include a bibliography, works cited, or reference list of sources consulted or cited by the authors.
Benefits → good for academic topics that require expert study, critique, and analysis
Drawbacks → long, technical/scientific language, narrowly focused
A trade publication falls outside of both scholarly and popular information, though it may contain elements of both. Trade publications share information between people within a specific industry in order to improve their business or field and to keep up-to-date on market trends.
Trade publications can be very useful to research within a specific field. Professionals or reporters in the industry write information aimed at others working in the same field. The information shared in a trade publication tends to be current and to include discussion of trends and products that affect the direction of the field. Since these publications are so specialized, they are likely to address a variety of issues, viewpoints, and perspectives related to the subject matter. Most common trade publications have good reputations with experts in the industry and provide verifiable, trustworthy information. Some trade publications undergo a peer-review process like scholarly information to ensure accuracy and relevancy before publication.
Benefits → career/industry research, some are peer-reviewed, specialized
Drawbacks → some are not peer-reviewed, overly specialized