Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Syracuse University Libraries

Music Research Process

Secondary & Tertiary Sources: Are They Popular or Scholarly?

Secondary and tertiary sources, such as books, ebooks, articles, and web sites, can be either popular or scholarly. Your professor will usually state what types of sources you should use for your papers or essays, as they are used for different types of arguments and analysis.

Categories are not always strict, but looking for indicators such as author and publisher credentials, presence of citations, and formality of language are helpful in making that judgement. Here are some common examples of popular vs. scholarly works, and some indicators you can look for:

Scholarly books are usually published by university or scholarly presses, and they are written by scholars and researchers. The text  has citations or references to support the research and arguments, and uses discipline-specific terminology. Scholarly books fall into two categories:

  • Monographs are books that are often by a single author, or a group of authors, and they cover a topic at length.
  • Edited collections (also called edited volumes) are books that have an editor(s) who then solicits chapter essays from other authors. The chapters can stand alone, have different authors, and cover a narrow portion of the broader topic of the edited collection. Citations for these books look a lot like journal articles, as they contain the chapter author, chapter title, book editor, and book title.

Popular books are otherwise known as trade books. They can be fiction or non-fiction, and are geared towards a general audience. Authors are general writers, journalists, or novelists. Language is less formal, and they often do not include citations or references. 

Scholarly articles are written by scholars and researchers, and are usually published in peer-reviewed academic journals, either in print or online. Such journals have editorial boards of experts who accept or reject articles for publication. Therefore, the articles are considered high quality, and represent important research in a given field.

Popular articles can be found on websites, magazines, blogs, or news sources, and do not include the same level of research and are not reviewed in the same way as scholarly articles. They are written by professional or amateur writers, journalists, or members of the general public. The articles often contain stories of interest to a wider audience, but still may be appropriate for certain types of music research, especially when discussing popular opinions or reception of creative works. 

Scholarly websites are often created by research agencies, non-profits, professional organizations, or other specialized and credentialed institutions. URLs typically end in ".org" and sometimes ".edu." They can contain a wide variety of primary sources such as music manuscripts and performance videos; they can contain scholarly reference and encyclopedia information, like Oxford Music Online.

Popular websites and other online content are often created by commercial or retail companies, individual people (like social media or personal websites), news outlets, online magazines or media, and a variety of other content creators. They can contain articles, blog posts, interviews, podcasts, reference information, videos, or many other types of content and formats. The key on determining if website content is popular or scholarly is looking at the intended audience and the credentials of the author. 

Popular vs. Scholarly Articles: Video

Video: Peer Review

To view video: Log in with your SU Net ID on the embedded box.