Scholarly literature is written for an academic audience, in academic journals and peer-reviewed articles, and popular literature is written for mass appeal, in trade publications, magazines, and newspapers.
Neither scholarly nor popular literature is better than the other, but you will use them differently in writing a paper. You'll have to examine each source and evaluate how it's relevant to your project.
When you're deciding whether to use scholarly, popular, or other types of literature, you'll come across the descriptor "peer-reviewed." This means that several scholars have examined the article to ensure its academic quality and value for the field. Watch the video in the tab (to the right) for more information about peer review.
Academic, or scholarly, journals contain a mixture of Original research articles, Review articles, and Book reviews. All three of these are important parts of academic conversations.
Original research usually follows the process of peer-review. These articles discuss new research, new ways of looking at an idea, or new solutions to an old problem. In scientific fields, engineering, and psychology, original research usually contains the word "study" in the first or second sentence of the abstract.
Review articles take a long look at a large area of research, or a specific field of study. A climate scientist may write about the ways climatologists have examined tree cores. A literary scholar may examine the ways other scholars have looked at gender in Julius Caesar. An historian may write of the ways American historians have studied Darwin. A psychologist may write about how other psychologists have studied adolescent cyberbullying. Review articles are written by experts in the field, about the field, and for other researchers to examine their place in the field.
Book reviews are written by scholars as a way to discuss a book's value for the field. Often, these reviews widely vary, depending on the scope of the journal. It is important to note that these reviews are not simply whether a book is good or not; they address the value of the book for scholars in the field covered by the journal.