Incorporating Non-Academic Sources in Research Articles

While most citations in a scholarly article refer to already published research or engage with theoretical materials, occasionally you will find it necessary to discuss magazine articles or reviews, online works, and other kinds of non-scholarly or non-academic sources. In part, engaging with these types of materials illustrates the continued relevancy of your research in the public realm. If you are discussing representations of war in literature, for example, it may be productive to think about reviews of such representations in contemporary popular culture. Connecting with public and popular media situates your research the “real world” and adds immediacy to your piece.

Popular Media

There are a few ways to engage with popular media. It can be productive to introduce a wide variety of media about a subject. If you are examining contemporary representations of war in literature, it could be productive to examine popular reviews, online blogs and message boards, or even newspaper articles about your specific literary text. By gesturing toward a variety of popular reviews, you may be able to speak to the subject’s public significance. Or, you may choose to more specifically close read one or two reviews as incidences of larger conversations about the text. In either case, you want to make sure that you accurately understand the meaning of the piece. If you quote from the piece, make sure that the quote represents the article’s meaning consistently.

In the same way, you want to make sure you understand the goals of non-academic sources (such as a review or article), which is slightly different from its meaning. So, for example, if it’s an online review of a particular war novel, its goal may be to tell the reader if the novel is enjoyable, or give some historical background of the work, rather than a serious thematic discussion. In a similar manner, you need to think of the review’s source; a review in US Weekly will have a radically different tone from one in the New Yorker magazine.

In order to use any piece of media generatively, you need to understand the writer’s and the magazine’s tone. In other words, don’t except a People magazine article to be scholarly or offer in-depth criticism, and instead think of the review as a cultural object that can also be interpreted. Understanding an article’s audience, its context, and its role in a publication is key to producing active and interesting cultural criticism. Again, if you are engaging online users’ writings, remember that their goals may not be a serious critique but a performance or other kinds of engagements with other users.


Cite non-academic sources according to MLA, Chicago, or whichever reference system you are using. Significantly, you must remember that if you engage with Facebook, Twitter, or online boards (a fan message board, for example), you need to cite the authors using their usernames and according to your preferred reference style.