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The University of Tampa Macdonald-Kelce Library

Introduction to Library Research

Begin here to start your research papers

Distinguishing Periodicals: The Difference Between Magazines, Journals, and Newspapers

What is the difference between --

  • a journal,
  • a periodical,
  • a magazine,
  • a newspaper,
  • and a trade journal?

Is there a difference between --

  • an academic journal,
  • a peer-reviewed journal,
  • a refereed journal,
  • and a scholarly journal?

What is a periodical? A periodical is anything that comes out periodically. Magazines, newspapers, and journals are all periodicals. They may come out daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, but new issues are released on a fixed schedule.

Who is the audience? Magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and academic journals are intended for different audiences.

Magazines are for the general reader. Magazines typically have advertisements for popular consumer products like cars, perfume, or electronics. Magazines rely on editors to determine suitability of contributed works, rather than a peer-review process.

Newspapers are also for the general reader. Newspaper articles are written by journalists, but may reflect reporting, investigative reporting, or opinion. While newspapers may be focused on authoritative and quality news reporting, journalists rely on different types of evidence than scholars.

Trade journals are specifically created for particular professions, or trades. They also have advertisements directed to that profession. For example, a trade journal for dentists may advertise and discuss new dental technologies.

Academic journals, peer-reviewed journals, refereed journals, and scholarly journals are trade journals for scholars. There are minor differences in the meaning of the terms in this list, but they are often used interchangeably for undergraduate education. Most scholarship is produced by professors, graduate students, and experts outside of academia. Scholarly journals depend on the peer review process (see definition on this page) to determine the suitability of submitted work.

Distinguishing content on the internet: The stylistic cues that used to make it relatively easy to distinguish different types of content vanish when presented on the web. It's easy to tell the difference between an analog newspaper and scholarly journal. They look and feel very different from each other. When using information from the internet it is important to develop the skills to critically analyze the information you're presented with, rather than rely on stylistic cues to determine the quality of information you're consuming.

Magazines & Journals: Video

Check out this video from Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Libraries on the differences between scholarly and non-scholarly sources.

How to Tell If It's Peer-reviewed

mortarboard icon Some databases will have indicators to let you know if your source is peer-reviewed. ProQuest, for example, uses a mortarboard icon to indicate if an article is from an academic journal.

Search Ulrichsweb to check if a journal is peer-reviewed. The term they use for peer-reviewed is 'refereed' that is designated by this symbol:

Peer Review Definition

What is it? When a scholar produces research and writes a paper/article about it he or she sends it to a scholarly journal. The editor of that journal removes the name from that research article and sends it to experts in the field to review. Since the person submitting the paper or article is also presumed to be an expert, these other experts are his or her peers. Hence the name 'peer-reviewed.' These peers read the research article and then recommend to the editor whether the article contributes significantly to the body of knowledge. If they approve of the article then it gets published. If they do not then it gets rejected.

The process is kept anonymous so that articles are not accepted or rejected based on personal likes or dislikes. The peer reviewers are to focus solely on the quality of the research and argument presented in the article submitted for publication.

The peer review process isn't perfect, but it's the best way scientists, scholars, and other researchers have developed to ensure high-quality information. This is why your professors often ask you to focus on peer-reviewed literature. This is typically the most rigorous and highest quality research available.

Popular Magazine vs. Scholarly Journal: Handout

Here is a handout which may help you distinguish academic/scholarly journals from popular magazines.

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