ENG 101, sect. 124
January 24, 2008
[OU1]Distinguishing between Popular and Academic Sources
One of the more subtle challenges facing
the modern student is the over-abundance of information. [OU2]Today, Wikipedia is used as a reference tool more than
the Oxford English Dictionary and Sports Illustrated amasses more subscriptions than Newsweek. (“Top 100 ABC magazines…”). Trying to differentiate between appropriate and
inappropriate sources for scholastic purposes proves to be a tricky tight-rope walk[OU3]. There are two key genres that students will deal
with in their academic careers, and it is important to distinguish between
them. By juxtaposing two texts, one from each genre, we can highlight the
differences between popular and academic sources. ‘Women
are Never Front-runners,’ [OU4]a recent New
York Times [OU5]editorial addressing the up-coming election by Gloria
Steinem, serves as a perfect example of the popular source. ‘Doubly Bound: The Impact of Gender and Race on the Politics
of Black Women’ by Claudine Gay and Katherine Tate is a fine example of an
academic source, presented by two professors in the Journal of Political
Psychology. Although both articles
center on gender politics, they vary greatly in their methods of delivery, and
in each we see typical features of their respective genres[OU6]. Popular and academic sources differ in,
among other things, their language and inclusion and citation of evidence. In the popular source, the tone is
assertive, and the language conversational. This stands in direct contrast with
the academic source, which uses
passive tone, technical jargon, and impersonal
and non-invasive language. The academic source also references and presents
direct evidence, while the popular source does not. Both articles use language
and conventions of evidence in different ways to illustrate and support their
In popular and academic sources,
language often serves different purposes. [OU8]Steinem's use of language in her article- her assertive tone, her simple word
choice, her use of repetition
, all serve to incite and challenge
reader to take her viewpoint. Towards the end of her article, Steinem creates a
list of concerns, repeating the words
“What worries me…” (Steinem). This adds a sense of urgency and emphasis to the
piece[OU9]. Her initial intentional confusion of Barak Obama
with his wife is a wonderful[OU10] example of irony, and the emotional effect it can
have on a reader. [OU11]
In contrast, Gay and Tate's use of technical jargon[OU12], non-assertive language, impersonal tone and lack of first person all serve to give the reader the only bare facts when presenting their case[OU13]. Scientific language is used throughout, and a certain level of familiarity with the tools of the trade is required. When discussing the results of the study, the authors use statistical terms, such as exhibited here: “Because the independent policy measures are dichotomies, generalized least squares are used” (Gay & Tate 175). This can be confusing language for the non-indoctrinated reader. Terms such as “may” and seem to” appear throughout the article, reaffirming a professionally neutral stance on the material. [OU14]
Both sources use their language for a certain goal- Steinem [OU15]uses it as her main tool of persuasion, where as Gay and Tate use their neutral tone and professional terminology to help establish credibility, and present the evidence succinctly. One could argue that their language is intended to be transparent, but often in academic writing, the language becomes overly technical for those not indoctrinated in the specific field, and therefore has the opposite effect. The language of each piece is indeed suggestive of its genre, but it is not the only indication available to the discerning student. [OU16]
The use and presentation of evidence in an article is a major clue as to its genre. Steinem presents no new evidence in her article (and references no one, although she does refer to numerous public figures). [OU17]Although her point may be valid, she does not rely on empirical evidence to back it up. For instance, when referring to Clinton and Obama’s political track record, she remarks that: “…if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time” (Steinem). [OU18]Here Steinem reports specific information without citing it, as is very common in popular sources. This is the case for a number of reasons: many prominent figures (such as Steinem[OU19]) [OU20]and publications (such as the New York Times) are not required to cite sources after reaching a certain degree of professional accomplishment. Also, information is often considered common knowledge when it can be found in more than three sources, and does not technically require citation by professional standards. However, this 3-source restriction has come to mean less and less as the amount of information and publications available to the public increases at an exponential rate. [OU21]
Unlike Steinem, Gay and Tate present large amounts of evidence in exploring their claim. They cite previous research, and compare it to their own independent data. They outline the parameters of their study, and present all methods used in detail alongside all evidence gathered. On page 175, the authors list in detail all questions from questionnaires given to study participants. This allows the reader to ascertain for themselves whether or not the study should be deemed valid. From [OU22]this evidence they aim to back up their claims. In this specific article, it seems that the evidence collected actually more refutes their hypothesis that race is no more important than gender to black women than supports it. [OU23]
Although both genres have specific ways of using evidence, and the academic source may be considered more reliable upon first inspection, this is most certainly not always the case. A popular source may very well be much more accurate in its facts than an academic source, or hold more relevant information. The extensive [OU24]use of evidence in academic sources does not always serve its purpose, and sometimes those "facts" may not be facts at all. In a famous example of academic and scientific fraud, Dr. Hwang of China falsified massive amounts of data, claiming to have cloned human embryos (what would be a momentous scientific feat). [OU25]His "findings" were reported in Science magazine, a highly respected journal with the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed journal globally (xx). [OU26]This goes to show [OU27]that even extensively reviewed academic sources can be fraudulent, or incorrect. However, for the student it is often more acceptable to use academic sources in research papers. [OU28]
Both popular and academic sources can be
useful tools for today’s student[OU29]. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but when
used in conjunction with each other, they can considerably bolster a student’s
work. While an academic source will
often lend a sense of credibility to a paper (as well as satisfy the
requirements of instructors), popular sources can aid in establishing the
context and social or political relevance of a topic. While an academic source
will typically have more specific data for a student to utilize, it may often
lack an effective way of presenting it- an area in which the popular genre
excels. With special attention paid to the language and evidence used in an
article, the popular and academic genres can be easily distinguished from one
another. Conversational language and popular vocabulary will usually indicate a
popular source, whereas technical jargon and non assertive language point to an
academic source. If extensive referencing and evidence is presented, a source
is most likely academic, and the lack of these features most definitely
indicated a popular source.
In conclusion, once a student
has mastered the skills of identifying the differences between popular and
academic sources, and using them
correctly throughout their college careers, they will benefit greatly from the
inclusion of both genres in their work.
“About AAAS” AAAS-The World’s Largest General Scientific Society. Jan. 2008. Jan 29th, 2008. <http://www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/>
Gay, Claudine & Tate, Katherine. ‘Doubly Bound: The Impact of Gender and Race on the Politics of Black Women” JSTOR: The Scholarly Journal Archive. Jan 29th, 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/view/0162895x/ap070068/07a00110/0>
Steinem, Gloria. “Women are Never Frontrunners” The New York Times. Jan 9th, 2008. Jan 29th, 2008. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/opinion/08steinem.html.>
“Top 100 ABC magazines Subscriptions First Half 2006.” Magazine Publishers of America. Jan 29th, 2008. <http://www.magazine.org/circulation/circulation_trends_and_magazine_handbook/18423.cfm>
[OU1]You may enjoy playing with what we humanities people call “the post-colonic surge” – i.e.: Distinguishing between… Sources: A Rhetorical Analysis. It’s a fun style issue.
[OU2]Interesting pull from the universal; good lead, I’m intrigued.
[OU4]Unfortunately, the single quote mark is just a British thing (unless quoting within a quote)—sorry, I know it looks cooler than the American double “ J
[OU5]Quotes vs. Underline: Look up how to identify long works (books, newspapers) vs. short works (poems, articles) & report back in your EAL
[OU6]Yay! Only student to point to their content similarities!
[OU7]OUTSTANDING thesis statement! That is, until the last sentence, which ends up a little weak.
[OU8]How could you make this more SAPy? Especially the SA part?
[OU9]Yes! Outstanding observation!
[OU11]close out with a “so what”—specifically relating back to the TS & ThS. Connect the thoughts.
[OU12]Good use of jargon to use jargon. Ha.
[OU13]Outstanding SAPy TS.
[OU14]Again, outstanding detailed & keen observation; these are called “hedge words” by the way, and are preferred in sci & soc sci writing.
[OU15]Perhaps some overkill with the dash—the dash is like paprika or garlic. It adds spice, but don’t overdo it or you’ll kill the dish.
[OU16]Fascinating point; you do lose us, however, in your closing sentence. Are you attempting to lead us into the next paragraph? Feels a bit awkward.
[OU17]Parentheses are unnecessary; your point is a solid one.
[OU18]Look up how to internally cite an electronic document in MLA style, revise, & report back in your EAL.
[OU19]Excellent! First student to finally mention how Steinem’s status affects her use of evidence (or lack thereof) in this op-ed piece.
[OU20]Again, the parentheses just detract from your powerful verbiage; loose them
[OU21]Very interesting observation—complete the thought, though. Remember the “so what” sentence that should lend a paragraph a feeling of finality. Also, it would have been great if you further ran with her lack of citation—how does her argument work exactly if she refrains from referring to outside sources, facts, figures. Think rhetorical analysis now: how is her argument compiled? What appeals does she use? I challenge you to analyze & offer some sentences about this in your EAL
[OU22]Good “so what” – discussion of significance
[OU23]I wish you had ran with this—observations about refutation—readings that go against the grain—are always stellar foci for academic papers; on the other hand, I do understand this is slightly outside the dictates of the assignment.
[OU24]Yay! Also the first student to consider the “pros” of the popular source; you show much independent thought & I appreciate this.
[OU25]Happy you included this!
[OU28]I think you could have done better than reverting the “so what” focus back to what appears to be advice for a typical student. This focus weakens your strong arguments.
[OU29]Same as above.
[OU30]Same as above; I’m just not in love with this tack; the “advice” or guidebook effect just detracts from an otherwise very sophisticated rhetorical analysis.
[OU31]Otherwise, a model conclusion—may I please use this as a teaching tool this week?