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W131: English Composition: Popular/Sensational

Popular Checklist

Here is a quick checklist of criteria to help you determine if a resource is popular:

  • Article length is short (1-5 pages).
  • References/citations/footnotes? No.
  • Articles may be anonymous.
  • Use conversational vocabulary.
  • Use graphics for an eye-catching look.

Popular Magazines


Popular periodicals come in many formats, although often somewhat slick and attractive in appearance, with lots of graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.). These publications rarely, if ever, cite sources. Information published in such journals is often second- or third-hand and the original source is sometimes obscure.

Articles are usually very short, written in simple language and are designed to meet a minimal education level. There is generally little depth to the content of these articles. The main purpose of popular periodicals is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers), and/or to promote a viewpoint.


Ebony Parents
People Weekly Readers Digest
Scientific American Vogue
Sports Illustrated Time

Sensational Magazines


Sensational periodicals are a particular variety of popular magazine.  They come in a variety of styles, but often use a newspaper format. Their language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational. They assume a certain gullibility in their audience.

The main purpose of sensational magazines seems to be to arouse curiosity, to cater to popular superstitions, and to sell advertising. They often do so with flashy headlines designed to astonish (e.g. Half-man / Half-woman Makes Self Pregnant).


Globe National Examiner
National Inquirer Star Weekly
World News