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Find Substantive Sources

This guide explains what substantive sources are and how to find them.

What to expect from this guide

Hello! This guide provides definitions and examples of substantive sources. It includes advice on:

  • What substantive sources are 
  • How to find multidisciplinary substantive sources
  • How to find subject specific substantive sources
  • How to find trade journals

What is a substantive source?

You can think of substantive sources as a step up from popular magazines and websites because they are backed by reputable organizations and publishers. They explore subjects in depth and are written for a general audience. The authors' sources are usually acknowledged in the body of a substantive article, which means that an interested reader can review the sources in order to evaluate their credibility or to explore a subject in more depth.

Who creates substantive sources?

Unlike scholarly, peer-reviewed sources, substantive sources are usually written by journalists who may or may not be considered an expert in the subject matter. However, the content of substantive sources is trusted to be thoroughly researched and fact-checked. This perspective is helpful for new researchers since authors often use more conversational language without field-specific jargon. 

What else should I consider when looking at substantive sources?

Some substantive sources are published by organizations with a particular philosophical or political point of view. Students should investigate the publication’s viewpoint to identify potential bias. In an academic research paper, material from substantive sources should be balanced with material from scholarly sources. Claims that are made about a subject should be supported with the kinds of evidence that are mostly highly valued by experts in that field. 

What are trade journals/magazines?

Trade magazines are published for people working in a specific industry, profession, or trade, and can also be useful for any researcher. Articles are often focused on current trends and practical issues. The writers are industry experts and other professionals and their credentials are usually listed. Trade publications can sometimes offer a specific "insider" perspective that cannot be found elsewhere, but you might need to look up some context if you aren't already familiar with the field. 

Still confused?

You may already be familiar with substantive sources without even realizing it. Check out this list of substantive sources, and see how many titles you recognize!

Comparing Types of Sources


Scholarly Journals

Substantive & Trade Publications

Popular Magazines


Academics, professors and students.

Substantive: general public seeking deeper knowledge. 


Trade: Professionals in a field.

General public. 

Written by

Scholars, experts or specialists with their credentials listed.

Credentialed journalists, professionals and industry experts. Authors’ credentials usually listed. 

Professional writers: journalist, staff or freelance writer, not necessarily experts in the field.

Author not always listed.


Academic press or professional organization. 

Nationally or internationally recognized organizations. May have a social/political perspective.

Commercial businesses for


Content & Tone

Written in factual, technical and scholarly language. 


Reports current and innovative research and scholarship.

Substantive: Reports and explores current news and trends. May be formal or journalistic but is usually more sophisticated in tone.  


Trade: Written in formal and technical language, often specific to an industry.

Written in relatively simple language.


Reports on current topics and events to inform and/or entertain. 


Usually plain with few color illustrations; may have tables, graphs; relevant photographs. Advertisements limited to books and journals.

Charts, graphs, photos relevant to article. May include graphic art. 

Eye‐catching and colorful with lots of paid advertisements. 

Review process & Sources

Reviewed by other scholars prior to publication.

Bibliography / Works Cited /

References always included.

Reviewed by professional editor employed by the publication; includes fact checking. Often identifies sources in the text.

Reviewed by professional editor employed by the publication, minimal fact checking. Rarely

identifies sources.


Experimental Psychology

Journal of Adolescence

Journal of Popular Culture

Advertising Age 



The Atlantic Monthly