“Consider the Source”
Scholarly Journals and Popular Magazines
a tutorial created by
Welcome! This tutorial should
take you about 10 minutes to
By the end of this tutorial you should
have a better understanding of the
difference between scholarly journals
and popular magazines.
Why should I care about the
difference between scholarly
journals and popular magazines?
While popular magazines can provide useful information,
they are sometimes insufficient for research papers on
For example, let’s say you need some articles for a
research paper you’re writing on anorexia.
An issue of the popular magazine Woman’s Day might
contain an interesting article about anorexia, but it will
not be as in-depth or authoritative as an article in a
scholarly publication such as The International Journal of
When you hand in your bibliography for your research paper,
your instructor will want to see that you have chosen the
most appropriate sources of information on your topic.
Okay, so how do I tell the
difference between a scholarly
journal and a popular magazine?
You’re probably familiar with what a popular magazine
looks like. Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Better
Homes and Gardens, Ebony, and Glamour are examples
of popular magazines. They’re usually printed on
glossy paper and contain lots of color pictures and
Now, take a look at some examples of scholarly
journals. Often, they look very plain, and usually
contain articles with lots of text. Pictures may be
included, but are typically limited to charts, graphs,
Next, think about the publication’s audience. For whom
are the articles written?
Scholarly journals are usually geared toward people
who work in a particular profession. The American
Journal of Physics, for example, is primarily for
physicists. The articles are written with the assumption
that the reader is familiar with physics terminology and
Sports Illustrated, on the other hand, is a magazine
that is meant for anyone interested in sports. You don’t
have to be an athlete or an expert on sports to fully
understand the articles.
Popular magazines are written with the general public
The next thing to consider is the publication’s purpose.
The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on
research that has been conducted in a particular field,
and to communicate information that is important to the
people involved in that field. A nurse who reads the
American Journal of Nursing on a regular basis will be
better informed, and better able to do her job effectively.
Scholarly journals are sometimes referred to as
professional journals, academic journals, scientific
journals, peer-reviewed journals, or refereed journals.
The words “peer-reviewed” and “refereed” mean that
before an article is published, it is reviewed by a panel
of experts to make sure it adheres to certain academic
Because of this, the information found in scholarly
journals is usually very reliable.
Unlike scholarly journals, the main purpose of popular
magazines is to entertain, advertise products, or promote a
Here are two magazines, The New Yorker and The National
Review. The articles in The New Yorker usually represent a
liberal point of view, while the articles in The National
Review are more conservative.
Not all magazines lean toward a particular viewpoint, but
it’s not uncommon.
One way of telling whether a publication is a magazine or a
journal is to look at its title.
Many scholarly journal titles include the word “journal,” as in
The New England Journal of Medicine.
The word “quarterly” is often part of a journal title as well,
since many journals are published quarterly (4 times a year),
while popular magazines are usually published monthly or
Words like “research” and “studies” are also commonly found
in journal titles, as in the Bulletin of Latin American Research,
or Studies in 20th Century Literature.
But wait a second…
Here’s a publication called Ladies’ Home Journal. It has
the word “journal” in the title, but is it a scholarly journal?
No. You can tell just by looking at the cover that it’s a
popular magazine, like the kind you’d find in the
supermarket check-out line.
The most obvious clue? The photo of Jennifer Lopez, of
course! As an entertainer, it’s very unlikely that she
would appear on the cover of a scholarly journal.
Great, but I don’t have the actual
publications in front of me to see
what they look like. All I have is a
list of articles I found by searching
an electronic database. How can I
tell which articles come from
scholarly journals and which come
from popular magazines?
When you are searching for articles in an electronic
database such as Academic Search Premier or Expanded
Academic ASAP, your search results may include articles
from both magazines and journals.
The example below shows two articles on cloning found in
the Expanded Academic ASAP database. One is from a
magazine and the other is from a journal.
Let’s look at some clues that will help you to determine
which is which.
First, look at the titles of the publications. The first article
comes from Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, and the
second comes from U.S. News & World Report.
Doesn’t “Perspectives in Biology and Medicine” sound like
something that is intended mainly for biologists and people
who work in the medical profession?
The title “U.S. News and World Report” does not refer to a
particular profession. It sounds like a general publication
intended for everyone.
Another clue is the length of the articles. The article from
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine is 14 pages long,
while the article from U.S. News and World Report is only
349 words, which is less than one page.
A 14-page article on cloning (or most any subject)
obviously contains a lot of detailed information.
An article that is less than one page couldn’t possibly
provide more than a simple overview of the subject.
By now you’ve probably guessed that Perspectives in
Biology and Medicine is a journal, and U.S. News and World
Report is a magazine.
Not all journal titles refer to a particular profession, and not
all journal articles are long, but these characteristics do
tend to be associated with journals rather than magazines.
What are some other clues?
If the full text of the article is available in the database,
open it and take a look at it.
If the article includes footnotes, a list of works cited, and/or
a bibliography, it probably comes from a scholarly journal.
The example below is part of a bibliography from an article
in the journal Studies in Short Fiction. Popular magazine
articles seldom include these kinds of references.
So if scholarly journals
contain more in-depth and
should I just forget about
Not necessarily. It depends on your research paper topic.
If you’re writing a research paper on a current event or topic
like the war in Iraq, affirmative action, or the use of steroids
in sports, you might find some good information in
magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and
World Report. For a paper on the use of steroids in sports,
you might even find a good article in Sports Illustrated.
However, for these topics you probably wouldn’t want to
use a magazine like Rolling Stone. While Rolling Stone
does include articles on social issues, its main focus is on
music and entertainment. The same goes for a
magazine like Vogue, which focuses mainly on fashion.
Your goal is to choose a publication that is appropriate
for your topic.
Ready to give it a try?
First, let’s review what we’ve learned so far by taking a look
at these two publications, Psychology Today and the
American Journal of Psychology. Both obviously focus on
psychology, but only one is a scholarly journal.
Can you tell which one?
If you chose the American Journal of Psychology, you’re
Judging from the serious look of the cover and the word
“journal” in the title, the American Journal of Psychology is
clearly a scholarly journal.
The slick, colorful, more enticing cover of Psychology Today
leads us to identify it as a popular magazine.
Now let’s try it without looking at the covers.
Here are two articles on childhood obesity from the
Academic Search Premier database.
Which one comes from a scholarly journal?
Did you say the second article? Excellent!
You probably remembered that articles in scholarly journals
tend to be longer and more serious than articles in popular
magazines. The second article in this example is 12 pages
long, while the first is only one page long.
Take another look at article number 1, the article from the
popular magazine. Notice that no author’s name appears.
Magazine articles may or may not include an author’s name,
but journal articles usually do.
Now, suppose you’re in the library periodicals department
browsing the shelves of magazines and journals. You pick up a
copy of a publication that contains recipes, movie reviews, and
home decorating ideas.
What can you assume? Is this publication a popular magazine
or a scholarly journal?
A popular magazine?
Is that your final answer?
Popular magazines like Southern Living may contain things
like recipes, movie reviews, or home decorating ideas, but
scholarly journals typically do not. Journals usually contain
essays or the results of research studies.
Looks like you’re catching on!
Let’s try one more exercise:
How would you classify this publication, Gentleman’s Quarterly?
Magazine or Journal?
With a movie star like Orlando Bloom on the cover, you can be
pretty sure that you are looking at a popular magazine.
If you guessed correctly, good for you!
How about Shakespeare Quarterly?
Magazine or Journal?
If you guessed it’s a journal, bravo! Again, the serious look of
the cover is the main clue.
This publication contains essays by literary scholars who study
the works of William Shakespeare.
Now that you’ve gotten the hang of distinguishing between
magazines and journals, there’s one more thing to do…
You need to know how to determine which sources are best
for your research paper.
I used a database and found a lot
of articles for my research paper
on hybrid cars. I chose 4 that
look pretty good. What next?
We’ll start by deciding which of the articles are from
magazines and which are from journals.
In this case, you should be able to tell just by looking at the
titles of the publications.
Yes, 1 and 2 are from magazines, and 3 and 4 are from
Let’s look at the magazines first. The title Popular Mechanics
suggests that this is a magazine designed for people who are
interested in mechanical things, like hybrid cars.
But what kind of magazine is People Weekly?
If you’re able to look at a copy of People Weekly, or use the
database to look at other articles from this magazine (you
can ask a librarian for help with this), you will see that it
focuses mainly on movie stars and other celebrities.
So, even though it contains an article on hybrid cars, it’s
probably not the best source of information on this topic.
Next, we’ll look at the journals.
Notice the title of article number 4. Sounds pretty
complicated, doesn’t it? Remember that journal articles are
usually written by experts for experts, so they can
sometimes be so scholarly that the average person might
have trouble understanding them.
Unless you’re writing an extremely detailed, scientific paper
on hybrid cars, article number 4 probably won’t be very
So the winners are...
Article number 1, from the magazine Popular Mechanics,
and article number 3, from the journal Mechanical
By now you should be familiar with some of the ways of
distinguishing between magazines and journals, and you
should be better able to choose the best sources for your
It seems pretty
easy, but what if I
need more help?
Glad you asked!
The examples in this tutorial are pretty straightforward,
but there are many exceptions to the rules. With some
publications, it can be a lot more difficult to decide if they
are magazines or journals.
There are even some scholars and librarians who can’t
agree on which is which.
Fortunately, there are tools in the library that can help.
If you’re having trouble evaluating a particular publication,
visit the Reference and Information Services Desk and ask
the librarian for one of the following books:
•Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory
•Magazines for Libraries
These books contain descriptions of thousands of
magazines and journals.
The Kendall Campus Library Reference and Information
Services Desk is located on the 2nd floor of building 2.
Reference Librarians are happy to assist you with your
You can reach us by phone at (305) 237-2077 or
Here’s a link to a one-page handout that provides a brief
review of what you’ve learned in this tutorial. If you’d like,
you can print it or bookmark it for future reference.
Thank you for completing this tutorial! Please let us know if
you found it helpful by responding to a quick, one-question
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