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What is a Professional Journal Article?
Distinguishing Scholarly from
Non-Scholarly Periodicals

Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all subject areas. Access to the large and varied journal collection through L. W. Nixon Library requires the ability to distinguish between the levels of scholarship found both in the print and electronic publications. For the purpose of this guide, types of periodicals have been divided into four separate categories: Scholarly; Substantive News or General Interest; and Popular.

You may limit your search results in the Ebsco and Infotrac online databases by checking the boxes found on their initial search screens labeled "peer-reviewed" or "refereed publications".

Scholarly Periodicals
  • Scholarly journals generally have a serious look. They often contain numerous charts and graphs. They typically do not have glossy pages.
  • Scholarly journals always cite their sources in either footnotes or bibliographies.
  • Articles are written by scholars within specific disciplines.
  • The language used is specific to discipline covered. It assumes some discipline knowledge on the part of the reader.
  • The primary purpose is to report on original research, making it available to the rest of the scholars within a discipline.
  • Many are published by professional associations or universities
Examples of Scholarly Journals
American Economic Review
JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
Journal of Social Work Education
Journal of Labor Research

Non-Scholarly Periodicals
Substantive News or General Interest

  • These may be appealing in appearance. Articles often have numerous photographs.
  • News and general interest periodicals may or may not cite sources used in articles
  • Articles may be written by a variety of staff members, scholars, or freelance writers.
  • The language is geared to interested audiences. No discipline knowledge is assumed.
  • These periodicals are generally produced by commercial publishers.
  • The primary purpose of these periodicals is to provide information to a broad audience.
Examples of Substantive News or General Interest Periodicals
National Geographic
Scientific American
Popular Periodicals
  • Popular periodicals are published in many formats. They tend to be slick with lots of graphics including photographs, and drawings.
  • These publications rarely cite sources of information. Information frequently is second or third hand.
  • Articles tend to be very short with little depth of content and typically written in simple language.
  • Articles are written by staff members or freelance writers.
  • The primary purpose of popular periodicals is entertainment, selling products, and/or promotion of a particular viewpoint. Examples of Popular Periodicals Sports Illustrated Newsweek Good Housekeeping Ebony
Examples of Popular Periodicals
Sports Illustrated
Good Housekeeping

L. W. Nixon Library, Butler Co. Community College 8/01
Adapted from the Wallace Library, Rochester Institute of Technology