4 Characteristics of Information

What are the Characteristics of Information?

Watch the video, Scholarly and Popular Sources (3) This video describes characteristics of popular and scholarly publications. Knowing the intended purposes of information can help you select the ones that are most likely to help you answer your questions.

There are also trade or professional publications, which are written by professionals in a field for other professionals. Trade journals are usually edited but are not always peer-reviewed. An example would be the magazine NursingWorld , which is written by nursing professionals for other nursing professionals.

Source Types at a Glance

Source Type Written By Written For
Popular Journalists General public
Trade Professionals in a field Professionals in a field
Scholarly Experts or scholars in a field Experts or scholars in a field (2)

Information Types: Popular, Trade (Professional), and Scholarly

Research topics usually cover all three information types. Here are several topics with examples of popular, professional, and scholarly information sources.

Topics Information Types
Popular Professional Scholarly
Medical WebMD American Nurse Today Western Journal of Nursing
Flu National Geographic The Scientist Nature
Politics Newsweek International Political Science Review Journal of Political Philosophy
Celebrity US Weekly Film Comment Screen
Apparel Vogue Lapidary Journal: Jewelry Artist Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management (2)

Different types of information are found using different tools

Each commercial search tool tends to favor one or two types of information. For example, the first page search results from Google Scholar are not likely to have links to WebMD (a popular information type).

Libraries generally have access to all three types of information making them valuable resources to begin your investigations no matter what you are researching.

Diagram of information types- popular, professional, and scholarly juxtaposed by good tool choices. Describe in text.
Figure 1-5: Information Types by Good Tool Choices by New Literacies Alliance is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

Putting It All Together

Before you begin your research, ask yourself: What kind of information do I want?

Here is a description for different types of information.

Scholarly Sources

  • Written by scholars for other scholars or specialists
  • Very little advertising
  • Have a serious appearance
  • Peer-reviewed by other scholars in the field

Trade Sources

  • Written by practitioners for other practitioners in a given field
  • Contain advertisements targeted to the field
  • May have a bright color
  • Edited but may not be peer-reviewed

Popular Sources

  • Written by journalists for the general public
  • Lots of advertisements
  • Lots of advertisements
  • General editors of publication review articles


Read the questions below and select the best answer.

1. You are writing an academic paper comparing influenza rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated preschool children in Canada. What kinds of publications should you look for and where would you find them?

  1. Popular ScienceIncorrect! You will typically want to find scholarly sources for academic papers, rather than popular sources.
  2. Trade SourcesIncorrect! You will typically want to find scholarly sources for academic papers, rather than popular sources.
  3. Scholarly SourcesCorrect! Use scholarly sources for most academic research papers. Academic sources are found in the library catalog and databases.

2. You just got a job in a childcare center and are wondering about best practices for protecting yourself from the flu in a childcare environment. What kinds of publications should you look for?

  1. Popular ScienceIncorrect! Trade or professional publications would be the best place to begin looking for information on industry best practices.
  2. Trade SourcesCorrect! Trade or professional publications would be the best place to begin looking for information on industry best practices.
  3. Scholarly SourcesIncorrect! Trade or professional publications would be the best place to begin looking for information on industry best practices.

Every information need requires careful consideration. Ask yourself: What do I want to know? What kind of information do I need?

Most publications are generally categorized as popular, professional/trade, and scholarly. Knowing the characteristics of each can help you decide which one will answer your research question most effectively before you begin searching. (2)

Selecting Academic Sources

The sources that you gather during the research process will be determined by what you want to know, what you already know, and the type of information source that you need. As you have learned, different information sources are written for different purposes and different audiences.

Publications are considered scholarly or popular based on characteristics, including intended audience, purpose, and authority.

  • The intended audience for scholarly publications includes researchers, scholars, and others who are searching for credible, in-depth information written by experts.
  • The intended audience for popular articles includes general and special interest audiences who are searching for credible news, opinions, and general information written by journalists, staff writers or other non‑specialists.

Differentiating between scholarly, popular and professional publications is not always simple. The terminology used can be confusing. For example, having the word “journal” in a publication’s title doesn’t make it scholarly. So how do you know?

Since academic research most often entails the use of scholarly sources, once you understand what scholarly sources are, identifying those sources can be simplified by using library database filters, search terms, and tools such as Google Scholar. (1)


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