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Scholarly v. Popular Information: Types of Periodicals


Writing research papers requires not only the use of books, but also articles from periodicals. Periodicals are publications that come out on a regular schedule (once a day, once a week, semi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) and provide up-to-date information and scholarship. Magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and journals (professional/trade journals and scholarly journals) are all periodicals. Articles in newspapers and magazines tend to be very different from articles in scholarly journals. Periodicals can be published in print or online.

Instructors will often request you use articles from popular or scholarly publications (the former usually referred to as magazines, the latter as journals). Although popular sources can be useful or informative, and may be well-written, it is important to understand the difference between a scholarly source and a popular one. When evaluating a source to use in a research paper, the degree of authority and the depth of research on a given topic determine if the source has academic value. Just as you do with books and electronic information sources, you should choose the right kind of periodical depending on your research need.

Some periodicals are for the general public, and may not have very specific or specialized information on your topic, while others are very specialized, and may contain more technical jargon than you are ready for at the start of your research. Others may have a viewpoint they support, and may offer information biased for that viewpoint.

Here is a general description of some kinds of periodicals, and some ways to tell if they might be right for your research. There are gray areas in these definitions, so consult a librarian if you are unsure.

Popular sources are written for a general, broad audience. Usually, articles are written by staff writers and can contain quotes or opinions from experts, but are general interpretations of the writer. There are levels of credibility and importance among popular titles. Professional journals are written for those in a particular profession, or those interested in a profession. Articles may be written by experts or paid writers, and most professional journals are not peer reviewed. A few do have a peer review process, and include citations, and the publication may be very authoritative. Scholarly journals, often also called academic journals, focus on a subject area. Articles are written by experts in the field who are recognized by their education, work affiliation and research publications. The writings of these experts carry authority. Scholarly publications contain the latest research and findings. Many of the publications are critically evaluated by peers (fellow scholars) in the field for content, scholarly soundness and academic value.
  • For general audiences, no specialized technical terms
  • Usually many ads, many color graphics and photos
  • Usually short articles and little in-depth coverage
  • Written mostly by journalists and freelance writers
  • No peer review or referee process for accepting articles
  • Rarely have formal citations of sources
  • Published by commercial publishers
  • For practitioners in a particular field or profession, with technical terms specific to the subject
  • Industry-related ads, color graphics and photos
  • Longer articles that cover developments in the field and practical information, with some research articles
  • Written by specialists and journalists that cover the field
  • Rarely have a peer review or referee process
  • Rarely have formal citations of sources
  • Geared toward researchers, scholars, professors, with many technical terms specific to the subject
  • Rarely any ads, usually only charts and tables
  • Long articles, usually reports of scholarly research
  • Written by researchers, professors, scholars
  • Have a formal peer review or referee process
  • Always have formal citations of sources
  • Published by universities, scholarly presses, research organizations, some commercial publishers

Examples of Popular Magazines

Sports Illustrated
USA Today

Examples of Professional Journals

Pharmacy Times
Professional Photographer
Radiologic Technician
Sales & Marketing Management
STEP Inside Design
Successful Farming

Examples of Scholarly Journals

American Journal of Philology
Slavic Review
Journal of Marriage and the Family
Modern Fiction Studies
Applied Physics Letters
American Sociological Review

Credits: Olympic College Library, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Ana College Library, OASIS, San Francisco State University.

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