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Media Studies

Media Studies refers to the broad range of interdisciplinary subjects focusing on media culture and production.


The amount of information we have access to is overwhelming, and determining whether that information is reliable isn't always straightforward. The resources here have been curated to help you do the necessary and critical work of evaluating the sources you find in your research and as you move through complex information ecosystems (especially online).

Source Review & Media Timescales

Sources go through various levels of review depending on the nature and type of source. The following graphic helps illustrate the speed at which media is published:

Image titled "Media Timescales," which shows how different media sources relate to time

To learn more about the level of scrutiny and review different kinds of media sources undergo, use this overview resource:

Sources covered: Social media, magazines and newspapers, trade journals, academic journals, and encyclopedias 

Scholarly vs. Popular vs. Trade

There are three main types of sources:

  • Scholarly sources are intended for academic use with a specialized vocabulary and extensive citations; they  are often peer-reviewed. Scholarly sources help answer the "so what?" questions and make connections between variables (or issues).
  • Popular sources are intended for the general public and are typically written to entertain, inform or persuade. Popular sources help you answer "who, what, where, and when" questions. Popular sources range from research-oriented to propaganda-focused.
  • Trade publications share general news, trends, and opinions in a certain industry; they are not considered scholarly, because, although generally written by experts, they do not focus on advanced research and are not peer-reviewed.

Remember, any kind of resource can be appropriate and useful for your research, as long as you understand the particularities of each source type, as well as the perspectives and biases of any given source.

This chart provides a more in-depth analysis of these different publication types, with information to keep in mind:

   Scholarly/Academic Articles  Popular Articles  Trade Articles
 Publisher Academic institutions, Scholarly platforms (e.g., Elsevier) Magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs, and government agencies Trade associations, Vendors
 Author (who writes) Professors, researchers, experts considered scholars; credentials are generally noted and authors are generally not paid General: Anyone: lay reporter, staff writer, free-lancer; generally paid
Research-oriented: Expert on the topic, someone who works in or knows the field; may or may not be paid
Staff writers, professionals,  journalists or vendors in the field; generally paid
 Audience (who reads) Scholars, researchers and students in the field General public Professionals and practitioners in a specific trade, industry, or profession
 Goal/ Purpose To share or present original research or scholarship; answer the "so what?" questions, make connections between variables/issues. To entertain, persuade or inform; answers "who, what, where, and when" questions
 Research-oriented: To find the truth, factual reporting
 Propaganda-focused: To elicit an emotional response
To inform and share research or experiences within a specific business or industry
 Content Research results, reviews of research in a specific field, book reviews Current events, general interest, reporting the findings of others Current news, trends, and products about a specific business or industry
 Editors/ Reviewers Journal editors and peer reviewers Staff editors, no peer review Staff editors, may be reviewed by business or industry professionals 
 Format/ Structure Standardized; see: Anatomy of a Scholarly Article; may be described as refereed or peer-reviewed Variable, includes websites, blogs, reports, and infographics No specific format with some industry exceptions
 Citation/ References Includes sources with footnotes, end notes, and/or in-text citations, and bibliography or list of references Rare; may offer links within publication or to similarly-focused sources
 Research-oriented: Generally includes references, footnotes and/or links to sources
Rare, may offer short reference lists
 Vocabulary Complex and technical Familiar, non-technical Technical in the field
 Article Titles May include the words: Journal, Review, or Annals; and/or refer to a field of study Often general, usually catchy Usually catchy and include technical terminology
 Graphics Used to illustrate a point Used for visual impact Used to illustrate a point or for visual impact
 Ads in publication Minimal, usually for scholarly products (e.g., books) or field-related products Glossy photos; Ads for a variety of different products Ads geared for the specific industry
 Examples American Anthropologist, Annals of Psychology, Journal of Gerontology Popular: Newsweek, Better Homes and Gardens, Time, Rolling Stone, My Blog
Research-oriented: Washington Post, Mother Jones,  National Academies Press
Propaganda-focused: Liberal America, National Rifle Association (NRA)
Banker, Pharmacy Times, Professional Nurse, Interior Designer, InfoSecurity Professional

Other helpful guides:

Video Tutorial

[Adapted from the University of Southern California Libraries Research Guides]

Evaluating Popular and Media Sources

There are a number of evaluative models you can use to assess and better understand a source you have found. A number of these are outlined below.

To better understand the context and potential function of a source, you can use the BEAM model:

Source Function Explanation Examples of Types of Sources Where you might use it in your paper
B: Background Factual and noncontroversial information, providing context Encyclopedia articles, overviews in books, statistics, historical facts Introduction
E: Exhibit/ Evidence Data, observations, objects, artifacts, documents that can be analyzed Text of a novel, field observations, focus group transcriptions, questionnaire data, results of an experiment, interview data (primary sources) Body/Results
A: Argument Critical views from other scholars and commentators; part of the academic conversation Scholarly articles, books, critical reviews (e.g. literacy criticism), editorials Body, sometimes in Introduction or in Literature Review
M: Method Reference to methods or theories used, usually explicit though may be implicit; approach or research methodology used Part of books or articles with reference to theorists (e.g. Foucault, Derrida) or theory (e.g. feminism, post-colonialism, new historicism etc.); information on a research methodology Methods or referenced in Introduction or Body

Source: Source: Joseph Bizup's BEAM model, referenced from UC Merced Library's Source Functions guide

When locating and evaluating resources, you can ask yourself the following questions to help determine if they are appropriate to use, reliable, and relevant (SCAAN test):

  • Source type: Does this source answer your research question? Is it an appropriate type (scholarly or popular, for instance) for your question? Does this contain the information you need to support your argument?
  • Currency: Is this source up-to-date? Do I need a resource that contains historical information?
  • Accuracy: Is this source accurate? Does its logic make sense to me? Are there any internal contradictions? Does it link or refer to its sources? Does more current data affect the accuracy of the content?
  • Authority: Who created or authored this source? Could the author or creator bring any biases to the information presented? Is the author or creator a reputable or well-respected agent in the subject area?
  • Neutrality: Is this source intended to educate, inform, or sell? What is the purpose of this source?

Other evaluative heuristics (in acronym form) include:

  • CARBS: Currency, Authority, Relevancy, Biased or Factual, Scholarly or Popular
  • CARS: Credibility (authority), Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support
  • CRAAP: Currency, Relevance (source), Accuracy, Authority, Purpose (neutrality)
  • DUPED: Dated, Unambiguous, Purpose, Expertise, Determine (source)
  • IMVAIN: Independent, Multiple sources quoted, Verified with evidence, Authoritative, Informed, Named sources
  • RADAR: Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracy, Relevance

Finally, consider your own biases when reviewing your information. If the source had the opposite position or result, how would that affect your opinion of its validity? 

[Adapted from the University of Southern California Libraries Research Guides]

Scholarly vs Popular Articles