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Scholarly sources, also called academic sources, consist of sources that distribute academic research and scholarship. Most scholarly sources are published in academic journal or book form. The authors of scholarly sources are typically scholars and academics, including faculty and students, with known institutional affiliations. The intended audience for these materials is typically researchers, scholars, academics (faculty and students), and other highly informed readers.

You may also hear scholarly sources reviewed to as peer reviewed sources. Peer review is a common, though not universal, process in scholarly publishing whereby a work is reviewed by other experts in the field before publication. There are a variety of styles of peer review, with varying levels of anonymity for the author and reviewers and transparency to the reader. Peer review is intended to evaluate the quality of the scholarship, and ensure that only high quality scholarship is published. If mistakes are made, or research findings are later found to be inaccurate, reputable journals have systems of issuing corrections and retractions to their readers.

Depending on your research area, substantive sources can be very valuable research tools. They are more detailed and reliable than popular sources, but are often easier to read and more timely than scholarly sources. They are typically written by journalists or subject experts; what sets them apart from popular sources is that they are trusted to be thoroughly researched and fact checked. Substantive sources identify their sources, which can be valuable as you continue on your research journey.

Grey literature is one term for materials and research produced by organizations or people outside the traditional commercial/journalistic or academic publishing worlds. Common forms of grey literature include government reports, research reports produced by organizations, conference proceedings, and white papers. Grey literature is generally written by and for professionals in a field, and typically employs technical and formal language. It is typically reviewed by a professional editor before its release and often includes references.

The grey literature you need depends on your research area. In organic chemistry, you may consult patents. In history, you may consult government reports. See your instructor or a librarian if you need help identifying the grey literature applicable to your research.

Popular sources are generally not good sources to cite for scholarly research (unless, of course, they are part of your primary source material), but they can provide helpful context for how a topic is discussed in the general discourse. 

Helpful Chart


Primarily academics, including faculty, researchers, and students

General public seeking deeper knowledge

Primarily professionals in the field, sometimes researchers or academics

General public, seeking entertainment and basic information


Scholars, experts, or specialists

Typically either journalists or scholars

Typically professionals or industry experts. Sometimes authored by an organization

Typically professional writers, not necessarily experts in the field


Employs scholarly and technical language

Often difficult to read for those not in the field

Reports current and innovative research and scholarship

Reports on and explores a given topic in depth.

Employs technical and formal language

Often heavy with field-specific jargon

Typically easy to read

Written to entertain and/or inform


Typically involves peer review prior to publication

Includes references

Reviewed by editor and fact checker employed by publication

Usually includes references

Typically reviewed by editor and fact checker employed by publication/organization

Often includes references

Typically reviewed by editor employed by publication, but not typically formally fact checked

Doesn't typically include sources


Journal of the American Chemical Society

Language and Literature

American Art

The New Yorker

Huffington Post Highline


Government report

Research report

White paper

Conference proceedings



Sports Illustrated


VCU Libraries. (2020, January 23). Find Substantive Sources [LibGuide]. Virginia Commonwealth University.