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Journals & Periodicals: Identifying Scholarly Sources

Learn how to distinguish between the 3 major categories of information sources: scholarly, popular, and trade.

Three Types of Sources





  • University press, non-profit scholarly society or for-profit publishing house
  • Commercial publishers
  • Professional associations, trade organizations or specialty publishers.
Publication Acceptance
  • Writers are scholars or qualified researchers
  • Scholars of equal standing (peers) or other qualified experts review each article submission before publication acceptance.
  • Peers or jury may be outside experts or an editorial review board.  Peer reviews are often "blind" - to ensure fairness, the authors names are hidden from the peer reviewers.
  • Writers often work for the magazine.
  • Acceptance based on timeliness and/or commercial appeal.
  • Editor or editorial staff decide what goes into each issue, but the publisher has final say.
  • Articles are usually reviewed by the publication's editorial staff for mistakes in grammar and spelling but some trade publications do have a version of the peer review process. 


Purpose & Aims of the Publication
  • To disseminate knowledge in a particular field or discipline.
  • Present original research, reports statistics.
  • In-depth analysis of topics.
  • Reviews of current literature in the field / notable books, publications, translations.
  • Aim for objectivity & balanced representation of issues.
  • Often non-profit.
  • Generally for-profit / profit driven.
  • To entertain or provide general or niche-market information & news.
  • Feature stories, interviews, reporting.
  • Generate ad revenue - sell products or services.
  • May be biased towards a particular point of view, but generally tries to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
  • Focused on a particular industry (i.e. heavy equipment rentals industry, the hospitality industry) or a professional trade (nurse practitioners, human resource managers, etc.)
  • Generally lengthy articles accompanied with bibliographies.
  • Authors(s) set out to prove or disprove a thesis.
  • Language is formal and technical; discipline specific and assumes a certain level of knowledge on the part of the reader.
  • Book reviews / motion picture / exhibition reviews are lengthy and may rival feature articles in richness of content and commentary. (Some scholarly periodicals do nothing but review other scholarly publications)
  • Content varies - Generally newsy and/or entertaining. 
  • Article length varies, but will be much shorter than an article in a scholarly publication.  Feature or cover articles or stories are interspersed with regular features or sections.
  • Book reviews / motion picture reviews / exhibition reviews.  Reviews are much shorter then reviews found in scholarly journals; Reviews are geared towards the potential consumer.
  • Language is is casual, conversational or anecdotal.  Reading level & vocabulary is typically kept at or below 12th-grade level.
  • Coverage of current industry news, developing trends, corporate news (buy-outs, mergers, expansions, etc.)
  • Although the articles found in many can be quite well-researched and substantive, these periodicals are geared towards those working in their industry - not necessarily scholars or academics studying that industry. 
  • Information may be the result of experience in the field as opposed to research data.
  • Articles are sometimes published without an author's name attached.
Sources & Documentation
  • Extensive documentation - sources are cited.
  • Bibliographies, Endnotes and/or Footnotes are provided.
  • Always a statement of responsibility - articles are signed.
  • Usually does not include documentation or citations of sources.
  • Articles or content features may or may not be signed.
  • Sources are not always formally cited, but may be included in a brief bibliography at the end of an article.
Look & Feel / Illustrations, Advertising, etc.
  • Generally a sober & serious look - plain fonts, lots of text, un-fancy layouts, more substance than style.
  • Few (if any) ads - advertising is rare.
  • Illustrations: Sometimes none, sometimes illustrated with maps, charts, graphs.
  • Look for charts and graphs in journals presenting research data; Social science journal articles may have maps, charts or other illustrations to provide context. 
  • Art / photography / media journals are the most heavily illustrated scholarly journals, providing glossy photos and high-quality color illustrations, but generally scholarly journals are less illustrated & visually-oriented than popular or substantive publications.
  • Lots of advertising - generally heavily commerical.  Ads are colorful and striking.
  • "Glossy" - very graphic - lots of photos & illustrations.
  • Limited commercial advertising for general audience, but does contain advertisements targeting others in the same field.
  • Charts and graphs may be included to support article content. 
Who's the Audience?
  • Target audience is usually discipline focused / specialized.
  • Scholars, univeristy faculty and students; specialists / professionals.
  •  General public or special interest or niche-market.
  • Practicing professionals in a particular industry or related industries.