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General Library Research Tutorial

Fundamental concepts and vocabulary used in library and information research.

C. Popular Magazines vs. Scholarly Journals

  Popular Magazines vs. Scholarly Journals 


It is important to learn to distinguish between popular magazines and scholarly journals.  Not only will your professors often ask you to use only scholarly journals, but you will also gain a greater understanding of the purpose and intended audience of the resources you use to develop your research topic. 


Note that popular magazines and scholarly journals are types of periodicals. A periodical is any publication produced periodically, that is, in regularly recurring intervals.  Examples include journals, magazines, and newspapers.  Periodicals are often also referred to as serials. 


When people hear the word periodical, they often think of articles.  The articles in periodicals can run from a single paragraph story in a newspaper to a 40 page study in a scholarly journal.  Though there are exceptions, most periodical articles tend to be no more than fifty pages. 


Periodical articles are organized into issues.  When you pick up a copy of Time magazine, you are holding an issue of the periodical entitled Time.  Often, especially in more scholarly periodicals, the articles in an issue of a periodical will all have a common theme.  For example, an issue of English Journal frequently devotes an entire issue to a topic, such as student assessment. 


Popular Magazines

Scholarly Journals

  • Articles written by journalists or staff writers
  • As a result, the articles are viewed as having less credibility
  • Written in non-technical language that a broad audience will understand
  • An issue may contain articles on a wide variety of topics
  • Articles do not follow any format
  • Contain commercial ads
  • Authors are experts or specialists in their given field
  • As a result, the articles are viewed as having more credibility
  • Written using the technical terms and jargon that are associated with the author’s expertise
  • An issue usually has articles on a narrower range of topics
  • Articles usually (but not always) follow a set format, starting with an abstract and ending with a bibliography
  • Sometimes (but not always) contain highly specialized ads that relate to the field



Notice the terminology used.  Popular magazines are usually called popular magazines.  Scholarly journals are usually called scholarly journals.  Scholarly journals are also sometimes called academic journals.



There is a subset of scholarly journals called peer-reviewed journals.  Peer-reviewed journals are the crème de la crème of scholarly journals.  In order to be published in peer-reviewed journals, the articles must be approved by recognized experts in the field that the article discusses.  The publication process goes like this:  



So, remember, the breakdown of popular magazines vs. scholarly journals looks like this:



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