Subject Guides

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 the information below to help you distinguish between the three main types of periodicals.

Popular Magazine

e.g., Time Magazine

Appearance: Highly visual, lots of advertising and photos.

Audience: General readership

Content: Popular magazines contain feature stories, reviews, and editorials, and may report research findings as news.


  • Are meant to entertain and inform.
  • Use popular language, geared toward the average reader.
  • Written by staff writers (not always named), or freelance writers.
  • Generally short in length (1-10 pages).
  • Rarely include references or footnotes.
  • Evaluated by editorial staff, but may not be reviewed by experts in the field.


Scholarly Journal

e.g. Journal of American Studies

Appearance: Sober design, little advertising, mostly text with some graphs and tables.

Audience: Students, researchers, scholars, specialists in a particular subject.

Content: Scholarly journals contain original research, theoretical issues, and new developments in the subject discipline.


  • Present the results of original research performed by the authors; often include a review of existing literature on the topic.
  • Include specialized vocabulary of a subject discipline.
  • Written by subject specialists identified by name, with degrees and academic affiliation usually given.
  • Generally medium-length to long (5-20 pages or more).
  • Meticulously documented; extensive references and/or footnotes.
  • Most often peer-reviewed by other authorities in the field to validate findings.


Trade Journal

e.g. Steel Times International

Appearance: Visual; some advertising related to the field, photos.

Audience: Members of a particular trade, profession or industry.

Content: Trade and professional journals contain news, trends, technical and practical aspects of the trade, profession or industry.


  • May present industry news and/or original research.
  • Include specialized vocabulary of a trade, profession or industry.
  • Written by staff writers and freelancers, usually professionals in the field.
  • Generally short to medium-length (1-20 pages)
  • May contain a few references or footnotes.
  • 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