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Distinguishing Scholarly Journals
Distinguishing Scholarly Journals

Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. In this guide, periodical literature is divided into five categories:

  • Scholarly
  • Professional
  • Substantive News or General Interest
  • Popular
  • Sensational


  • Webster's Third International Dictionary defines "scholarly" as:   Webster's defines "scholarly" as:
    • Concerned with academic study, especially research,
    • Exhibiting the methods and attitudes of a scholar, and
    • Having the manner and appearance of a scholar.
  • Substantive is defined as having a solid base, being substantial.
  • Popular means fit for, or reflecting the taste and intelligence of, the people at large.
  • Sensational is defined as arousing or intending to arouse strong curiosity, interest or reaction.
  • Keeping these definitions in mind, and realizing that none of the lines drawn between types of journals can ever be totally clear cut, the general criteria are as follows.


  • Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pages.
  • Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies.
  • Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field.
  • The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.
  • The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.
  • Many scholarly journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization.

Examples of Scholarly Journals

    • American Economic Review
    • Archives of Sexual Behavior
    • JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
    • Journal of Marriage and the Family(published by the National Council on Family Relations)
    • Modern Fiction Studies


  • Professional periodicals are written to inform people who need to keep up with news, commentary and analysis in their fields.
  • Professional periodicals are written to inform people with occupational interest in news, commentary, and analysis of issues in their fields.

Examples of Professional Periodicals

    • Women's Wear Daily
    • Datamation
    • Science Digest
    • Law and Order
    • Regan Report on Nursing Law
    • Artnews
    • Sales and Marketing Management

Substantive News or General Interest

  • These periodicals may be quite attractive in appearance, although some are in newspaper format. Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs.
  • News and general interest periodicals sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.
  • Articles may be written by a member of the editorial staff, a scholar, or a freelance writer.
  • The language of these publications is geared to any educated audience. There is no specialty assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence.
  • They are generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, although some emanate from specific professional organizations.
  • The main purpose of periodicals in this category is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concerned citizens.

Examples of Substantive News or General Interest Periodicals

    • Christian Science Monitor
    • Economist
    • National Geographic
    • New York Times
    • Scientific American
    • Vital Speeches of the Day


  • Popular periodicals come in many formats. They are slick and attractive in appearance and contain many graphics, photographs, drawings, etc.
  • These publications rarely, if ever, cite sources. Information published is often second or third hand and the original source is sometimes obscure.
  • Articles are usually very short, written in simple language and are designed to meet a minimal education level. There is general little depth to the content of these articles.
  • The main purpose of popular periodicals is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers) and/or to promote a viewpoint.

Examples of Popular Periodicals

    • Ebony
    • Parents
    • People Weekly
    • Readers Digest
    • Sports Illustrated
    • Time
    • Vogue


  • Sensational periodicals come in a variety of styles, but often use a newspaper format.
  • Their language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational. They assume a certain gullibility in their audience.
  • The main purpose of sensational magazines seems to be to arouse curiosity and to cater to popular superstitions. This is often accomplished using flashy headlines designed to astonish (e.g., Half-Man Half-Woman Makes Self Pregnant).

Examples of Sensational Periodicals

    • Globe
    • National Examiner
    • Star
    • Weekly World News

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Last updated: 5/10/2010

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