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Research Skills: Understand scholarly, popular & trade publications

A guide to the research process, compiled by your Librarians

Scholarly, popular and trade publications

Scholarly, popular and trade publications

It is important to be aware of the range of information sources that are available to you and the attributes, advantages and disadvantages of each source type.

On this page we focus on journals and magazines and the differences between popular, scholarly and trade publications. 

Scholarly, popular and trade publications

It is important to know when you are using a scholarly publication and when you are not. 

Scholarly articles are written by experts in academic or professional fields.  They are excellent sources for finding out what has been studied or researched on a topic.  They will also have a bibliography which will point to other relevant sources of information. 

Quick tip: If you are working towards major pieces of coursework, like your Extended Project or Extended Essay, you must include references to relevant scholarly articles.

Explore the tabs below to learn more about different publication types.

Scholarly publications


Scholarly articles are written by subject specialists, usually researchers publishing their results.  The purpose of scholarly journals is the advancement of knowledge, they are not for profit and do not contain advertising.  Scholarly articles are serious in appearance, there are not many pictures but they may contain tables and charts.   They will usually have an abstract, citations and a bibliography. They are sold through subscriptions and are not available in stores. 


 Popular publications



Popular publications often have an attractive cover, short articles, a glossy format and lots of photographs.  They are profit-making so advertising and sales influence their content and design.  The audience of a popular publication is the general public so subscriptions are sold to individuals or issues can be bought in stores.


Trade publications


Trade publications also have a glossy format.  They are designed to be attractive to people in a particular business area.  They provide news, current awareness and professional development.  Trade articles usually contain practical, applied information focused on a particular industry, trade or business.   Subscriptions are sold to individuals and issues may be available in stores.