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When you find an article in full-text format through one of the library’s online periodical databases, or on the Internet, determining the periodical type of the article can be difficult because you do not have the entire periodical to look through for hints.
Looking for the following criteria can help you determine whether a periodical is a popular magazine, trade publication, or scholarly journal.
Telling Periodical Types Online
- Don't let the word Journal influence your decision too strongly. Although the word Journal is often an indicator of a scholarly publication, it doesn’t guarantee it. (Think about Ladies Home Journal, a popular magazine.)
- Does the source title indicate the periodical is geared toward a very specific and limited audience? These titles are often trade publications and contain information that will assist practitioners in a given field learn more about their work. For example, Social Studies Teacher and American School Board Journal are both geared toward very specific audiences, as their titles indicate.
Publication date - This can provide you with a big hint.
- Scholarly publications are often published quarterly, so those items that indicate an issue as Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall will most likely be scholarly journals.
- When the date includes a month, date, and year, it’s an indicator that the publication is probably not a scholarly journal. For example: January 23, 2012. This kind of date usually indicates a publication that is published on either a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, which is not a characteristic of scholarly journals.
Article length - The length can also provide you with valuable information.
- Articles in scholarly journals, particularly research articles, will often be longer than ten pages.
- There may be articles in scholarly journals that are one to two pages, but these tend to be news releases, editorials, or book reviews. These would not be the type of article you would use in a research essay.
- Articles in trade publications have varying lengths.
- Articles in popular magazines tend to be short (under five pages).
References - Can you tell where the authors found their information?
- If there is no bibliography or reference list, it is not a scholarly article.
- If the reference list is rather short, it might be an indicator that it is a trade publication because sometimes articles in trade publications have reference lists. Ask your professor if a researched trade publication article is acceptable for your research.
- Are author names listed? If there is no author name it is unlikely to be a scholarly journal.
- Are there multiple authors? Often scholarly or research studies will include a group of authors.
- Are the author’s credentials included in the citation (e.g., Ph.D. or M.D.)? This is likely to be a scholarly or professional publication.
- Does the database record indicate that there are supplementary items such as charts, tables, or graphs included? The presence of these items will often indicate scholarly journal articles, particularly if there are multiples of such items.
- Does the record indicate there are if there are photographs included? Photographs are most frequently included in popular and trade publications.
Still not sure? Check to see if the library has a print subscription you can look at, examine the publication’s website for further information, or ask a librarian for assistance.