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Information Literacy Program

Popular Magazine vs. Scholarly Journal

Journals and magazines are published on an ongoing basis and are important sources for up-to-date information. Articles provide specialized or focused information on one aspect of a topic. Books or encyclopedias should be consulted for background reading, in depth analysis. Articles will contain information too current to have appeared in books.

Scholary journals have a serious appearance: text-oriented with few photographs and include graphs and charts illustrating research results or otherwise supporting the text. They often have journal or review or quarterly as part of the title and may only be available to members of a group or by subscription

Popular magazines have an attractive appearance, often on glossy paper, with many photographs and eye-catching graphics. Titles are "catchy" or intriguing. They are usually sold at newsstands or bookstores and are usually published on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.

Scholarly Characteristics

  • Lengthy articles written by experts or scholars for an expert, academic audience (faculty, graduate students, researchers) in a particular field.
  • Employ a formal, scholarly or technical writing style utilizing a vocabulary that requires some degree of subject knowledge.
  • The author's expertise is usually given near the beginning or at the end of the article and an abstract is included.
  • Sources are credited in footnotes and/or a bibliography.
  • Often reviewed by an author's peers before publication.
  • Purpose of the publication is to share information. Articles are based on original research and experimentation in science or social science or are the writings, criticism and reviews of scholars in the humanities.
  • Published by academic presses, professional associations, or universities.. Any advertisements are usually for books, journals, or conferences.
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Popular Characteristics

  • Short articles written by professional writers to entertain or inform a general audience.
  • Articles are written in an informal, journalistic writing style usually aiming at a fifth grade reading level.
  • The author's credentials are not usually indicated
  • Sources are rarely documented.
  • Purpose of the publication is to make money.
  • Published by commercial presses and contain many advertisements
Money Time Oprah

Other Types

National Geographic

Some popular magazines contain substantive articles, that is they provide solid information to an educated audience but usually do not cite sources. (Ex. Economist, National Geographic, Scientific American, Natural History).

Trade magazines are commercial publications aimed at a particular industry or trade (Adweek, Computerworld, Electronic Media).


Choose an appropriate index for the type of article you need.

For scholarly journals, use an index intended for your field of study: ERIC for education, MLA International Bibliography for literature, or ScienceDirect for natural and social sciences.

Ask a Reference Librarian if you need help.

For popular magazines, use a general index such as Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

Some indexes, such as ProQuest Research, contain both types of publications. To select scholarly articles, limit your search to "refereed journals".


Further information on specific journals and magazines can be found in Serials Directory (Electronic Database). Evaluations of some 65,000 titles can be found in Magazines for Libraries by Bill Katz and Linda Sternberg Katz, 10th ed., 2000. (Payson Ready Ref. Z 6941.K2 2000)

Always check with your instructor to determine which types of articles are acceptable for each assignment.