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Popular Magazine or Scholarly Journal?: Comparing Journals versus Magazines

A guide to finding and recognizing scholarly or peer-reviewed journals.

Journals v. Magazines

Below is a listing of general characteristics which can be used to identify differences between popular magazines and scholarly journals. Some magazines and journals, however, may not meet all the criteria in any one category. Some publications may mix 'magazine' content with more scholarly 'journal articles', so judge by the individual article as well as the entire publication.  Besides, with the availability of full text articles from databases, it may be difficult to judge characteristics of the publication as a whole.

  Popular Magazines Scholarly Journals*
Appearance Attractive appearance, Eye-catching cover
Pictures and illustrations in color
Glossy paper

Plain cover
May contain graphs, charts or case studies
Plain paper


Non-professionals, General audience
Written in non-technical language

Professors, scholars, researchers, or students
Written in the technical language of the field
Content Personalities, news, and general interest articles
A wide variety of subjects
Articles written by staff, may be unsigned
Report original research, discoveries, or experimentation
Publish research projects, their methodology, and significance
Articles written by contributing authors, with institution indicated
Advertisements Heavy Few or none
Reviewers Reviewed by editors Reviewed by editors, peers, and referees
Documentation Few or no bibliographic references Bibliographic references (footnotes, end notes, etc.)

National Geographic
National Wildlife

Biology of the Cell
Social Forces
School Science Review
Journal of Health Care Management

*sometimes also referred to as 'academic', 'refereed' or 'peer reviewed' articles

Peer Review

Trade Publications

A third type of periodical is the trade journal:

  • Directed toward members of a specific business, industry, or organization
  • Discuss industry news, trends, new products or techniques
  • Published by trade associations
  • Have few or no bibliographic references

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