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Popular Magazine or Scholarly Journal?: Home

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


For many research assignments instructors want you to find a journal or scholarly journal article instead of a popular magazine or newspaper article. Journals or scholarly journals are academic or professional publications, rather than general interest, mass-market, popular magazines. Various databases allow you to limit your results to scholarly journals. Use this guide to help you tell the difference between these types of periodicals.

There is no clear-cut definition, but the following are some clues to help you distinguish between journal articles and popular magazine articles. A scholarly journal would have at least a few, but not necessarily all of the following features.

  • written by and for academic faculty, researchers and/or experts
  • use technical or field-specific vocabulary
  • give full bibliographic references (AKA a "Works Cited List")
  • published mostly in academic journals, with titles like  American Journal of Sociology
  • generally sober and serious in tone
  • may have charts, graphs and tables, but are not glossy and colorful like magazines
  • often report results of research

The most prestigious research articles are peer-reviewed, meaning they are edited by an expert panel.