One of the big differences between the research you did last year in high school and what you're expected to do during your college career can be summed in one phrase you will see and hear frequently, "Please use 3-5 scholarly peer-reviewed sources in your paper".
What does this mean?!
Universities are special places. Shipyards build ships, we build educated minds. One of the skills you will develop in college is how to read the literature that is produced by the scholars (and future scholars) in your discipline: biology, English, sociology, and more. It takes a lot of practice to learn to read thoroughly, carefully, and then analyze what you're reading. THEN you're asked to synthesize what you've read and heard in classes with what you think in order to produce an essay or other project. This is the path to becoming a scholar--someone with depth of knowledge who can write clearly in their subject area with a curiosity for exploring ideas. This training helps produce an 'educated mind'.
So, learning to distinguish between the everyday kind of knowledge we all consume--tv news, Newsweek, the Times-Picayune from an article about an experiment on rats detailing the effects of food additives with possible effects on human nutrition becomes a worthwhile skill to have.
Scholarly information is most often produced by scholars for other scholars. The vocabulary used is specialized and expert. The intended audience for this material generally has or is acquiring advanced knowledge. The author of such work is an expert in his/her field; usually with advanced degrees, most commonly a PhD. The publication has been peer-reviewed. And the sources for the work are always cited.
Popular works are intended for a general audience of readers. Advanced knowledge is not usually required to read and use this material. The author may not be a recognized expert or practitioner in her/her field. The work has not gone through a rigorous peer-review process. The sources for such a work may not be cited at the the end of the work.
Check out these two examples below to see the differences in action. Read the abstracts. To the left of the abstracts, you will see pdfs; click on each to see the complete article. Which one is scholarly and which one is popular?
Here's a quiz that will let you know if you can recognize peer-reviewed materials. No sweat, you got this!