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Agriculture and Bioresources 492/494: Tutorials for Finding and Evaluating Information Sources

This guide contains two modules designed to assist 492/494 AgBio students in contributing to the scholarly conversation in their fields, and finding and retrieving relevant and credible information.

Scholarly, Grey, and Popular Information Sources

So, what do you know about scholarly, grey, and popular information sources? Does the popular just have lots of friends? Is the grey getting a seniors discount? If you do know about these types of info, then the following will be familiar. Being able to distinguish between the different types of information sources is essential when looking for material for your literature review.

What is Scholarly literature?

Scholarly literature sources are written by experts in a field. They use technical and academic language, and they are usually written for other experts. These sources are also known as academic sources, peer-reviewed sources, or refereed sources. They are usually research articles published in scholarly journals (in print or electronically).

What is Grey Literature?

This type of information source is not created through traditional commercial publishing channels. It is material that is written and produced by government, academics, business, industry, and more. It can be found in print or electronically. Examples include annual reports, policy statements, geological surveys, and company newsletters.

What is Popular Literature?

This type of information source is written for the everyday person and is informal in tone and scope. It is not written for an academic audience. Popular works include general news, entertainment, and business publications such as The Atlantic, People, and Fortune. Some of these sources can look like scholarly sources, i.e. National Geographic, Scientific American, or Psychology Today. Popular literature can be found online or in print.

What are Peer Reviewed Sources of Information?

Before we get to the specific characteristics of the various types of literature, let’s look at peer-review. It is a major difference between the three types of sources, so it helps to know what it is. In most cases, peer-reviewed journal articles are considered the highest standard for scientific research. It’s important to note that while all peer-reviewed sources are scholarly, not all scholarly sources are peer-reviewed. To make sure we’re all on the same page as to what peer review is, watch this short video for an overview:

Source: "Peer Review in 3 Minutes" by libncsu is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license

Characteristics of Scholarly, Grey, and Popular Information

Scholarly, grey, and popular information have different (but sometimes overlapping) characteristics. It is useful to know the characteristics so you can determine what a piece of information is in order to be able to include it in your thesis. While most of the information you need will be of the scholarly variety, AgBio students often look to the grey literature for information on data and statistics, government policy, or industry or market research. If you come across a popular article that talks about a research study, it is best to try to find the original scholarly, peer-reviewed study to include in your work. If you need help with any of this, your librarian can assist you.

Review the following table that depicts the characteristics of all three types of information:


Scholarly Literature

Grey Literature

Popular Sources

Is it reviewed?


Not peer-reviewed

Can be reviewed by an editor, copy-editor

Who writes this information?

Written by scientists/experts in a field for other experts

Written by professionals or practitioners in the field often for small or specific audiences

Written by journalists for the general public

What type of language is used?

Specialized, technical, and/or scientific  language

Language appropriate for the specific audience

Written to be understood by the general public

How many pages is it?

Longer articles (8+ pages)

Length varies

Shorter (usually 1-7 pages)-although there are popular articles called long reads.

How is it structured?

Contains specific sections like Abstract, Methods, Results, Conclusions

Depending on what type of document, may contain subheadings 

May contain subheadings

Is there a bibliography/works cited/reference list at the end?




Who publishes this information?

Published by commercial scholarly publishers

Various publishers, including government, businesses, industry, non-profit organizations, etc.

Published by commercial publishers

Where do you find it?

Appears in scholarly journals

Various locations, including internet

Appears in magazines, newspapers, etc. in print or electronically


Table of characteristics depicting all three types of information.

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