I want to write a paper on a certain specific topic (it's not terribly important what it is, this is intended to be a generic question). I can find sufficient peer-reviewed sources to provide a foundation for much of what I want to synthesize, but I'm coming up short when it comes to establishing a justification for my paper - that is, why it matters now, why someone would care to read it or use what I hope to find. What I can, find, however, are popular writings - newspaper articles, blog posts, random mentions in chat rooms, etc. saying something like "oh, I wish we could accomplish Specific Goal X under Conditions Y! Here's how it would help me/us/Bill/those guys down the street/etc.". I'm not seeing that in the literature - papers about X don't seem to cover using it under Y, and papers about Y don't seem to consider how it would affect X.

Is it reasonable to set up the justification for a paper by citing primarily popular (non-peer-reviewed) works (as long as I have a proper peer-reviewed foundation for how X and Y work), or is this more likely a red flag, indicating that I lack a sufficient foundation to study this right now (i.e. either I would have been able to find sources specifically about the theoretical utility of future research into X under Y, or the very fact that there are no sources indicates that there is actually little or no likelihood that X under Y would mean much)?

  • Given the quality of popular science writing recently (at least in the mass media), I would certainly consider it a yellow flag with some shade of red in it. It would definitely not help. Have you taken half an hour or so to look for authoritative, well-written and/or well-referenced sources? (Searching on Google Scholar instead of google.com is the first step.) Oct 3, 2019 at 1:25

1 Answer 1


Research need not be completely inward looking: a snake eating its own tail. All applied research, in fact, is rooted in real world concerns. The fact that the questions have been little studied in the past is not a reason to avoid them in the future.

In fact, "its interesting" is enough of a justification for a lot of research, whether theoretical or applied.

And having a potential application immediately may make it more interesting, actually.

  • Having someone care about the topic in the wide world is great, but what the OP is intending to do sends the additional implicit message that only laypeople are interested in the topic, and that's not a good message to send. Oct 3, 2019 at 1:27
  • @darijgrinberg, unless it is an issue that has only recently arisen and the OP is a pioneer. Vaping death comes to mind.
    – Buffy
    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:52

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