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Evaluating Popular Non-fiction and News: What is a popular source?

Popular vs. Scholarly

Popular is a term used to distinguish non-fiction content written for a general audience from scholarly content written for an audience consisting primarily of academics and policy-makers. Common types of popular sources include:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • TV news
  • Web news
  • Non-fiction books written for a general audience

Popular news sources are created in many different ways and use a wide variety of fact-checking and editorial standards. The more you understand about those varied creation processes, the better handle you will have on the strengths and limitations of different types of news sources and when to use them. 

Evaluating Popular Sources

How can you tell if the facts or analysis presented in a non-fiction source are accurate? The best practice is always to stop and think critically about the source - how and why it was produced, what evidence it is providing to support its claims, and how other sources present similar information. 

The Source Evaluation Techniques Guide presents several step-by-step methods you can follow to evaluate individual sources. 

In addition to those techniques, the more you know about publication processes and sociological context for different types of news sources, the better instincts you will have for how much critical investigation particular claims made in different sources require. The goal is to come to understand two things: