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Communications, Journalism, and New Media: COMM 2020

Let's Compare...

A scholarly journal usually won't have much flashy cover art and will be published by a professional organization or academic press.  The authors are all experts in the field and the articles included in an issue are peer-reviewed prior to publication.  You can usually only get these journals at academic libraries or through membership in a professional organization.  These are the journals you want to use as sources for your research papers.

Journal of Marriage and the Family


A popular journal, on the other hand, will often feature a celebrity or media personality on the cover and will include articles of general interest on popular culture and current events.  You can pick one of these up at a news stand or check out aisle at the grocery store.  Fun to read, but not what you want to use as a resource for a research paper!

People Magazine

Let's Evaluate...

Consider these five web pages dealing with the topic of cigarette smoking:

Secondhand Smoke and Cancer Factsheet was created by the National Cancer Institute on its dot gov website, is well organized, easy to read, and current.  It is published by a credible government entity, includes citations/links to scientific research and contact information. The page features no advertising and no extraneous graphics or links.  In short, it is everything a professional web page should be, and a good source of usable information

Essays on the Anti-Smoking Movement--Sound credible? Take a look at it.  The author gives his name but no credentials. The page compares the persecution of smokers in the United States to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.  This author obviously let emotion guide his writing.  It may look like he is presenting factual information, but upon close reading it is apparent he is not.  Additionally, the page has sold ads to the Smoker's Bookstore, probably not a neutral source of information.

Understanding Smoking also sounds like a site trying to be objective., the home website, is published by the National Cancer Institute of the United States,a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to reduce smoking rates. Hence it will offer reliable statistics and science, but with an acknowledged bias against smoking.

"The Truth--the Facts"  claims to be the truth and the facts, but from  whose perspective? This site is not trying to disguise its purpose, though it does hold a clear opinion about harm caused by smoking.

"5 Health Benefits of Smoking"  is another site whose title sounds straightforward. A closer examination of the site shows it to be satire which parodies popular reports of scientific cause-effect studies. "Smoking lowers risk of knee-replacement surgery" is the first benefit, but the text describes a farfetched causal chain. Parody sites such as this one are often quite well done but are rarely reliable.

Assignment #1

General Guidelines:

1.  Write an original, short paper or essay of three to four pages, excluding the reference page.

2.  Select a format for the body of the paper, citations, and references appropriate for your major. In other words, those in the sciences typically use APA (American Psychological Association); liberal arts/English majors typically use MLA (Modern Language Association).

3. If you use APA, a title page and abstract are not required for this assignment. See the MLA link and example for paper header.

4. A Works Cited (MLA) or References (APA) page is required with a minimum of three references, one of which may be your textbook. Your other references must have been selected by using Watson Library resources, available online is help with a reference librarian by calling 318 357-4574/888 540-9657.

5. Write in third person.

6. Feel free to be creative, witty in your writing style, but stay focused and avoid clichés.

7. Carefully proof your work and seek the help of the NSU Writing Center if needed (and also available online).

8. Here is but one example of how to organize your essay from Essay Writing Help.

8. Late papers, without prior approval of the instructor, are not accepted.

9. Refer to the Rubric for Response Essays provided in Moodle for grading guidelines.

The Prompts

Select and analyze one of the two editorial cartoons below to determine the cartoonist’s thesis or argument. Do you agree or disagree? Explain your response based on your understanding of course material covered to date, research, examples from recent events covered by the media, and any relevant personal experience or observations.

Your response is akin to “op-ed” or opinion piece that newspapers and magazines have traditionally used opposite the editorial page. Op-eds provide an opportunity for reader feedback and diverse views. These are not “Letters to the Editor,” which are typically shorter and more personal in nature.

Visual Literacy

What is it?

Visual literacy is the ability to recognize and understand ideas conveyed through visible actions or images (as pictures)

What about Media Literacy?

This is a "literacy" or knowledge of media--teaching people (consumers) how to read the messages conveyed through visual images, music, and advertising.  --

Library Resources

Scholarly vs. Popular

There are several types of periodical publications:  scholarly and popular.  They are called “periodicals” because they are published at regular periods throughout the year, or "serials" because they are published in a series of volumes and issues, not just once.

Journals are scholarly periodicals.  They are collections of articles usually written by scholars in an academic or professional field and published by a professional organization or academic press. Magazines and newspapers are popular periodicals.  They contain articles about different topics of popular interest and current events. A third category is in between these two, professional magazines published by professional or scholarly associations which feature news, conference announcements and recaps, and other information pertinent to the discipline, but not research reports. The distinctions below are broad generalizations.


                   Scholarly (Journal)                         Popular (Magazine)



Not distinctive and usually has no artwork or photography

Usually in color, may feature a celebrity or a person in the news


Most are research-oriented, technical, or scholarly in content


Often begin with an abstract


May have charts or graphs but not often photographs


Author identified by degree and position


Conclude with a bibliography of

sources used


Most cover popular, current, or general interest topics


May include illustrations and photographs


Author not always identified


Rarely include references


For professional products and services

A great deal


Usually academic or professional organizations



Professionals/scholars in the field

General public


New England Journal of Medicine


Educational Technology Review


Journal of Physical Chemistry


American Historical Review 





Sports Illustrated




If your professor tells you to find scholarly sources for your paper, choose journals rather than popular sources. However, some magazines, like Harpers, Scientific American, Billboard, and The New Republic, can also be good sources of information for your less formal papers and speeches. These include in-depth articles that are geared toward readers who, though not experts in the field, are knowledgeable about the issues discussed. Magazines like People, Sports Illustrated, or Rolling Stone are probably not the best sources to use for your paper, unless your subject is popular culture.

Evaluating Web Resources

The World Wide Web offers students, teachers and researchers the opportunity to find information and data from all over the world. The Web is easy to use, both for finding information and for publishing it. Because so much information is available, and because that information can appear to be fairly “anonymous”, it is necessary to develop skills to evaluate what you find.

Because anyone can write a Web page, documents of the widest range of quality, written by authors of the widest range of authority, are available on an “even playing field.” Excellent resources reside alongside the most dubious.

Criteria For Web Page Evaluation:

1.  What evidence is there that the author of the Web information has some authority in the field about which he or she is providing information? What are the author's qualifications, credentials, and connections to the topic?

2.  Is the author affiliated or associated with any well-known organization or institution?  Is there a link to the sponsoring organization, a contact number and/or address or e-mail contact?

3.  Are there clues that the author is biased?  For example, is the author selling or promoting a product?  Is the author taking a personal stand on a social/political issue or being objective?  Is the author part of or representing a group that may be biased?  Bias is not necessarily "bad," but all connections should be clear. 

4.  Is the information current?  Check links to other web sites as well as the date the page was last updated.  If there are links that do not work or the page has not been updated in some time, the information included may not be current.

5.  Does the page have a complete list of works cited that reference credible, well-known sources?  If the information is not corroborated by external sources, what is the author's relationship to the subject?  Can he or she give an "expert" opinion?  Are all resources web-based or are there credible print sources listed also?

6. On what kind of Web site does the information appear? The site can give you clues about the credibility of the source.  A personal homepage might not be as credible as a professional or educational web page.  Look at the URL and backtrack to find the original institution offering the page.

7.  Is the page cluttered or loaded with unnecessary graphics?  An overabundance of images that are not related to the content of the page is sometimes used to compensate for a lack of quality information.  Too many “bells and whistles” may indicate that the author is not serious about the content of the page.

8.  Is the page visually appealing and well organized with information offered in an easy-to-use searchable format?  A page that buries content may have something to hide.

Subject Guide

Patricia Brown's picture
Patricia Brown
201E Watson Memorial Library
318 357-6263

Research Consulations

I will be delighted to sit down with you for an hour or so and help you get started on your research project.  However, I need at least a couple of days advance notice so I can prepare.  This helps me help you get the most out of our session. Call, email, or text me to set up a special one-on-one research consultation.  For students who live outside the Natchitoches area, we can do this via email, text, or over the phone.

Anecdotal evidence from faculty members indicates that students who participate in these consultations have a much greater understanding of the research process and do better on their papers!