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ANT 112 - Desert Vista: Academic vs. Popular Sources

What is a Popular (Non-Academic) Source


  • To inform a general audience in an entertaining or practical way

Authors and Audiences

  • Authors are often journalists or amateurs, but may be experts.
  • Audience: Non-experts

Defining features

  • Published in way to attract eyeballs or to maintain customer subscriptions
  • Articles are NOT peer reviewed.
  • On the web, articles may disappear within a few months
  • Sources are cited only informally, if at all.

Bottom line for student researchers

  • Benefits

    • Easy and fun to read
    • Great for getting ideas, and then going to the original research.
  • Challenges

    • Often it is second-hand information.

    • Often simplified, incomplete, sensationalistic, or biased compared to read research.

    • Generally unacceptable to knowledgeable readers of your work when presented as reliable evidence of anthropological phenomena.

    • Citations to other work are informal, and therefore tricky to identify and find the original. Ask a librarian.

A sample magazine article in anthropology

Unmanning the Grill: Women Are Moving in on a Traditional Male Preserve: The Barbecue. (2014). Newsweek Global, 163(8), 98. Link to "Unmanning the Grill..."

What is an Academic source?


  • To report original findings or theory in a discipline
  • To face questions  that can only be answered. . .

    • using specialized methods

    • by many researchers building upon each other's work

    • through decades of research

Authors and Audiences

  • Experts writing for other experts

Defining features

  • Published in a channel reserved for the discipline: an academic journal
  • Articles are peer reviewed
  • Availability over time is guaranteed
  • Clear standards for reporting data and citing sources formally

Bottom line for student researchers

  • Benefits

    • This is the cutting edge research in your field.
    • This is how new knowledge is challenged, tested, and expanded.
    • We can learn WHAT is true, but also for HOW we know it.
    • The only place to go for very specific questions
  • Challenges

    • Dense and slow reading. The authors assume background knowledge you lack.  Seek overview articles to fill in.

    • The articles usually have a much narrower focus than what you hope for.

    • Long articles.

      Finding relevant articles is harder than finding a cool restaurant on Google. You have to do more thinking and experimenting.

A sample academic article in anthropology

Østebø, M. T. (2018). Can respect be key to gender justice? Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute24(1), 71–89. Link to "Can respect be key.."