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COMM 2381: Oral Communication

This research guide is built to assist all sections of COMM 2381 with their topics.

Scholarly and Popular Sources

You are probably going to get asked to find "scholarly" or "academic" for some assignments. This is referring to a particular type of source. What does that mean, how can you find them, and why does it matter?

Academic and Popular Articles

You likely will be asked to find articles for some of your research. Articles are usually published in periodicals. A periodical is any publication that comes out regularly or occasionally (periodically). Sports IllustratedThe Journal of Anthropological ResearchThe Commercial Appeal, and the phone book are a few examples of periodicals. Different types of periodicals have different audiences and provide different levels of information.

Popular Periodicals 

  • A periodical aimed at the general public and containing news, personal narratives, and opinion. You are probably familiar with popular magazines and newspapers
  • Articles are often written by professional writers with or without expertise in the subject and contain "secondary" discussion of events, usually with little documentation (e.g. footnotes or bibliography).
  • These popular periodicals use vocabulary understandable to most people, and often have lots of eye-catching illustrations. 
  • TimeThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalVogue, and Psychology Today are a few examples of popular periodicals.

Academic Journals

  • A scholarly periodical aimed at specialists, academics, and researchers.
  • Articles are generally written by experts in the subject using more technical language.
  • They contain original research, conclusions based on data, footnotes or endnotes, and more often than not include an abstract and bibliography.
  • Most, but not all, academic journals are peer-reviewed or refereed. Academic journals in law are a major exception: they do not have a peer review process. 
  • The Journal of Physical ChemistryThe Chaucer Review, PLOS ONEThe Milbank Quarterly, and Labor History are a few examples of journals.

Why It Matters

It's important to understand the differences between the audiences for academic journals and popular periodicals and how that affects your research. Magazines and other popular periodicals can be very high quality, but they are written for a general audience's level of knowledge and don't provide information that a general audience wouldn't have the knowledge to understand. That could be fine for lower-level classes, but they aren't designed to support most upper-level academic research. Academic journals are designed for specialist researchers and will have more details and complex information, which makes them more useful for advanced research. 

What About Books?

Books can also be divided into "scholarly or academic" and "popular." There are a few easy ways to tell if a book is scholarly or not. 

What Makes a Book "Scholarly"

  • Author(s) will usually be experts in the subject and use more technical language, similar to academic journal articles.
  • The publisher of the book will be an academic publisher. Examples of academic publishers are university presses (ex. The University of Tennessee Press), scholarly associations  (ex. Modern Language Association), and for-profit academic publishers (ex. Taylor & Francis).
  • Books usually are not peer reviewed, but you should be able to find information from the publisher about how they determine what books to publish and how they ensure high-quality research. 

Identifying a Scholarly Article

So your professor told you to find a "scholarly article." Maybe they said an "academic article," a "journal article" or a "peer-reviewed article." Here are a couple ways to figure out if what you found meets that criteria. 

Is it Peer Reviewed?

In most scholarly subjects, an article must go through a peer review process before it is published. Peer review, sometimes called "refereeing," is a quality control process where other experts on a topic review and make suggested changes to an article before it can be published. Read our FAQ for identifying if a journal is peer reviewed. 

This video goes into more detail about the peer review process. 

What to Look at in the Article

There are common elements to many scholarly articles, especially those in the natural and social sciences. Here's how to identify those elements. 

What to Check at the Beginning of the Article

page from a journal with sections highlighted and numbered

  1. That the publisher specializes in scholarly publications:
  2. If the author or authors are credentialed:
    • Credentialed means that the authors have done the work to be "provided with...credentials," according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
    • In other words, they have done the academic labor of achieving degrees, compiling and publishing research, submitting papers, going through peer-review, and other forms of professionalization.
    • They will likely list some credentials, such as affiliation with a university or research organization. 
  3.  There's an abstract.
    • An abstract is a brief summary of the article.
    • While not always present, it is often standard before a scholarly journal article.
    • It helps you understand the author's intentions, methods, and outcomes, and helps you decide if you want to use the article without having to read the whole thing.
  4. Keywords
    • Not every article will have keywords listed like this on the main page, but most will have them in the database record.
    • If you think any of the keywords describe more clearly what you're trying to research, try using these keywords to search!

Find the Literature Review

  •  A literature review summarizes and synthesizes the research an author has done to lay the foundation for their work.
  • It helps you as a reader understand what scholarship the author has consulted, and which scholars influenced their thinking in which ways. All scholarly sources should credit earlier scholarship.
  • This is a great section in which to look for background information and additional articles using the in-text citations and references.

See Where They List the Methodology

page of journal representing methodology

  • If the author conducted an original study, they will include a section that details their research strategy they followed.
  • This assures the readers (and their peer reviewers) that they pursued ethical means of research, and outlines the steps they created and followed to get there.
  • It will also inform the reader of the types of methods they chose and why, which can help the reader understand the mechanics of their study and the results. 

Look for References at the End

page of a journal references page

  • A heavy reference page is a good indicator that the author or authors did a fair amount of research to establish credibility and participated in a significant and serious scholarly conversation. All the sources in the literature review should have full references in the article. 
  • While research can take many forms (a scientific study, for example), a published scholarly article won't be complete without evidence that the author or authors consulted with peers and experts to shape the course of their research.
  • This can result in agreement, or argument -- hence the nature of a conversation. When you do college-level writing, you too are participating in the ongoing conversation. 

Finding Scholarly Articles in a Database

Look at the Item Record

When you do a search in an academic database, your results will look something like this. This is called the item record. There are a lot of things to notice here, but the real question is -- is the article you've found scholarly? There are a couple of clues to help you find out. 

You'll see some of the elements of the beginning of a scholarly article in the record, including

  • An abstract
  • Some credentials in the author affiliations, and
  • Keywords.

Item record for a scholarly article "Hold the Phone! High School Students' Perceptions of Mobile Phone Integration in the Classroom." Visible are an abstract, author affiliations, and keywords.

After looking at the record, you should open the article. Then you can look for all the sections of a scholarly article listed above!

Limit Results to Scholarly Articles 

In most library databases, every result willFilter by Format in EBSCO search results be classified by a source type, such as academic articles, magazines, newspapers, etc. They will also let you limit your results by these source types, allowing you to get only scholarly articles in your results. 

Often in the results there will be a tool for limiting your source types, like the EBSCO "Filter by Format" option, will help you identify different kinds of sources more easily. You can refine by academic journals here, which should narrow down by scholarly, or peer-reviewed articles available in this database.