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Getting Started with Research: Periodicals

Because you never see the physical publications when you search online, it can be hard to tell what's what. Which article is from a magazine? Which one is from a scholarly journal? When does it matter?

What Are Periodicals?

Periodicals are any material that is published periodically, such as daily, monthly or quarterly. A book, for example, is not a periodical. The great majority of periodicals available from the MCC Library today are electronic and included in databases. Some periodicals are considered scholarly, others popular. Scholarly is not the same as "credible." Both scholarly and popular periodicals can be credible. Depending on your information need, a scholarly resource or a popular resource might be a better fit.

  • Academic or Peer-Reviewed Journals (scholarly)
  • General Interest newspapers and magazines (not scholarly)
  • Trade journals (not scholarly)

The characteristics of different types of periodical publications are described below. These differences hold true whether the publication appears online or in print.

Scholarly Periodicals

Academic or Peer-reviewed Journal  - Examples: Journal of Asian Studies, Psychophysiology, Social Research

  • Journal reports original research or experimentation
  • Articles written by an expert in the field for other experts in the field
  • Articles use specialized jargon of the discipline
  • Articles undergo peer review process before acceptance for publication in order to assure creative content
  • Authors of articles always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies


Note: Some but not all academic journals are peer-reviewed. Peer review insures that the research reported is accurate and of high quality. Sometimes the term "refereed" is used instead of peer review.

Popular Periodicals

General Interest Magazines - Examples:Time, Popular Science, Psychology Today

  • Provides information in a general manner to a broad audience
  • Articles generally written by a member of the editorial staff or a freelance writer
  • Language of articles geared to any educated audience, no subject expertise assumed
  • Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs
  • No peer review process
  • Sources are sometimes cited, but more often there are no footnotes or bibliography

Popular Magazine - Examples: People, Men's Health

  • Articles are short and written in simple language
  • The purpose is generally to entertain, not necessarily inform
  • Information published in popular magazines is often second-or third-hand
  • The original source of information contained in articles is obscure
  • Articles are written by staff members or freelance writers

Trade Journal - Examples: Advertising Age, Independent Banker, People Management

  • Discusses practical information in industry
  • Contains news, product information, advertising, and trade articles
  • Contains information on current trends in technology
  • Articles usually written by experts in the field for other experts in the field
  • Articles use specialized jargon of the discipline
  • Useful to people in the trade field and to people seeking orientation to a vocation

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals (3:13)

Peer Review in 3 Minutes (3:16)

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