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Understanding Journals: Peer-Reviewed, Scholarly, & Popular

What is the difference?

The terms, periodicals, serials, journals, and magazines can be and often are used interchangeably. This does not mean they are all the same. 

  • Periodicals are publications that are printed; daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually. 
  • Serials are publications intended to be published indefinitely into the future, they can be books but more often than not are periodicals. 
  • Journals are generally held as being scholarly and authoritative, including references and citations. 
  • Magazines are referred to as being popular publications and having less credibility.
  • Both magazines and journals are periodicals.

Scholarly vs. Popular Publications

  Scholarly Publication Popular Publication
Examples Nature, Cell, Journal of the American Medical Association Time, People, Sports Illustrated, New Yorker, Rolling Stone
Look Plain, serious, lengthy articles, may contain charts and graphs to support findings Glossy, commercial, contains a lot of color illustrations/photos
Author Scholars and experts in field of study/discipline Journalists, popular authors, or maybe no author
Audience Scholars in academic and discipline related fields, researchers, students General public, anybody
Advertising Few and highly specialized pertaining to the publication topic High amounts of advertising for a broad range of products
Language Higher level of language, more scholarly and serious, vocabulary pertains and relates to discipline Simple, more broad language used to relate to a higher number of people, easier to understand
Indexing Articles are listed in specialized databases and indexes Articles are listed in general databases and indexes
Bibliography, Works Cited Heavily cited with footnotes or bibliography Rarely includes references or works cited
Purpose Discuss and display research, findings, trends and information in a scholarly manner More general interest, current events, gossip
Review Policy Peer reviewed. Editors are scholars in the field Editors or other magazine staff

How to Tell if an Article is Scholarly or Academic