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ENGL 126 Writing: Humanities ONLINE (Moreno): What Is Literary Criticism?

This guide is for students enrolled in Michael Moreno's ONLINEnglish 126 Fall 2016

What Is Literary Criticism & Popular vs Scholarly Literary Criticism

LITERARY CRITICISM IS analysis, interpretation and evaluation of authors and their works of literature, which can include novels, short stories, essays, plays and poetry.

  • Literary "criticism" is not necessarily negative; "criticism" means a thoughtful critique of an author's work or an author's style in order to better understand the meaning, symbolism or influences of a particular piece or a body of literature.

  • Literary critical analysis may be popular or scholarly.

  • Popular literary criticism is written for the general public or for students. Local newspapers, such as the Seattle Times, and magazines, such as Entertainment Weekly or O, contain book reviews. Introductory articles, such as the Topic Overviews found in the literary database, Gale Literature, are written for students.

  • Scholarly literary criticism is generally found in scholarly literary journals, such as Critique or The Journal of Ethnic Fiction, as well as in books. A scholarly journal is peer-reviewed if articles that are published in it go through a rigorous review process by other experts in the field.

  • Scholarly literary criticism engages with a written work in a thoughtful, sophisticated and sustained manner. While literary criticism from a reference book provides you with introductory terminology, context, interpretation and more, scholarly criticism goes deeper.

  • Scholarly literary criticism analyzes and builds on specific passages, characters, themes, language, etc. from a written work.

  • Scholarly literary criticism brings the critic's particular theoretical framework, biases, questions, etc to bear upon the text.

  • Articles are written by scholars in a subject area for an academic or professional audience. Check for author affiliations or credentials in the database record or at the beginning or end of an article.

  • Scholarly literary criticism may be extensively cited, if the author references the work of other thinkers. Some scholarly literary criticism engages primarily and closely with the text itself, rather than with other the ideas of other scholars. (Scholarly articles in the sciences and social sciences are, as a rule, extensively and thoroughly cited.)

  • There is no one correct scholarly reading of a text. That said, be sure to build your own analysis with examples and support from the written work you're analyzing as well as the scholarly article with which you are "conversing."


How can you tell the difference between types of periodicals? magazine image magazine image magazine image magazine image


Popular magazines

Trade, industry and professional journals

Journals of commentary and opinion

Scholarly & research journals


Usually a staff writer or journalist. Sometimes the author's name is not provided.

Writers with subject knowledge or practitioners and professionals.

Great variety: specialists, journalists, organizational members, others.

Primarily experts, often university researchers, whose credentials are usually included.


Written for the "average" person who doesn't have in-depth knowledge of a topic. (popular)

Multiple levels of readers: general public to practitioners and professionals. (mostly popular)

General audience, high school and up. (popular)

Aimed at professionals, researchers, scholars, or others with more in-depth knowledge of the topic. (scholarly)


Entertainment, opinion, current topics, quick facts.

Trends, forecasts, news and events in the field; products, book reviews, employment, biography.

Commentary on social and political issues, specific viewpoints, book reviews.

Research, analysis, scholarship. Often includes abstract, research methods, conclusion, bibliography.


Shorter articles providing broad overviews of topics. (popular)

Short newsy items to longer, in-depth articles.

Varies:  short, pithy, articles to more in-depth discussion.  An issue may be devoted to a particular topic.

Longer articles providing in-depth analysis of topics. (scholarly)


Glossy, color pictures, advertisements.

Ads related to the field or profession.  Charts, tables, illustrations.

Varies considerably.  Some have graphics and advertisements.

Dense text, usually with graphs and charts, fewer specialized, advertisements.


Articles are generally evaluated by staff editors rather than experts in the field.

Articles reviewed by editors from professional associations or commercial/trade organizations.

Publications support a particular viewpoint or specific interest group.  Opinionated.

Articles reviewed by a "jury" of experts--"peer-reviewed" or "refereed"—before publication.


People, Essence, Hispanic, Good Housekeeping, Out, Time, Vogue, Sports Illustrated

RN, Library Journal,  Professional Builder, Contractor Magazine, Restaurant Hospitality

National Review, America, Harper’s, New Republic, Commentary, Progressive, Atlantic

Journal of American History, Nature, Journal of Business, Lancet, Bioscience

Adapted from ACC Library Services Libguides.