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How to Evaluate Sources

What is a Scholarly Journal?

Professors often suggest that students include articles from scholarly, refereed, or peer-reviewed journals as resources for their research papers. These articles are authored by experts in their fields and reviewed by peers before getting accepted for publication. See below for a chart to help you distinguish between the three main types of periodicals.

  Popular Magazine Scholarly Journal Trade Journal
Examples Time Magazine Journal of American Studies Steel Times International
Appearance Highly visual, lots of advertising and photos Sober design, little advertising, mostly text with some graphs and tables Visual; some advertising related to the field, photos
Audience General readership Students, researchers, scholars, specialists in a particular subject Members of a particular trade, profession or industry
Content Popular magazines contain feature stories, reviews, and editorials, and may report research findings as news. Scholarly journals contain original research, theoretical issues, and new developments in the subject discipline. Trade and professional journals contain news, trends, technical and practical aspects of the trade, profession or industry.
Articles Are meant to entertain and inform Present the results of original research performed by the authors; often include a review of existing literature on the topic May present industry news and/or original research
Use popular language, geared toward the average reader Include specialized vocabulary of a subject discipline Include specialized vocabulary of a trade, profession or industry
Written by staff writers (not always named), or freelance writers Written by subject specialists identified by name, with degrees and academic affiliation usually given Written by staff writers and freelancers, usually professionals in the field
Generally short in length (1-10 pages) Generally medium-length to long (5-20 pages or more) Generally short to medium-length (1-20 pages)
Rarely include references or footnotes Meticulously documented; extensive references and/or footnotes May contain a few references or footnotes
Evaluated by editorial staff, but may not be reviewed by experts in the field Most often peer-reviewed by other authorities in the field to validate findings Evaluated by editorial staff that may include experts in the field, but not peer-reviewed


Please note that not all articles found in magazines, or journals, will contain the noted characteristics. Use careful judgement in determining if an article in a scholarly journal actually presents in-depth, original research, or if an article in a magazine or trade journal goes beyond presenting news and current trends.