Scholarly, popular and professional journals

How to find articles

Authors write articles, which are collected in journals. (Authors also write books, but those are much more straightforward; you just search for them in the Ebook Catalog.)

To find articles, you search in databases, and there are different databases for different topics. Use Resources By Subject. Select the subject guide for your broad subject area. On the Journal Articles tab, in the upper left, you will see a list of databases that are good for searching your topic. Click on the database, log in if it prompts you to, then keyword search in the database.

Scholarly journals

Scholarly journals are also known as peer reviewed journals because peer review is one of their defining characteristics. Peer review is a quality control process by which anonymous experts in the subject of the article examine the article before it is published. They either reject it, accept it as is (extremely rare) or accept it pending changes. The purpose of peer review is to screen out mistakes, flawed research methods, flawed statistical analysis, plagiarism, falsified data and misinformation. Peer review may also correct typographical, grammar, style and formatting issues; if not, the journal’s editors will.

Some scholarly journals use editorial review instead of peer review. This just means that instead of anonymous volunteer experts, the journal employs a board of experts who do the same kind of thing.

The other defining characteristic of scholarly journals is that they are written by experts, for an audience of fellow experts.

You will also find that scholarly journals always have citations and a works cited or bibliography section. They are written in formal language, and their content is not in the least bit simplified or even explained for beginners. They do not have advertisements, although they may have announcements of job openings and conferences.

This interactive web site, Anatomy of a Scholarly Article, will help you learn to identify scholarly articles on sight.

Professional journals and trade magazines

Professional journals and trade magazines lie in the middle-ground between scholarly and popular. They are not written for a general audience, but for an audience of fellow members of that trade or profession who are experts by virtue of training and experience.

Professional and trade journals do not exist in the academic subjects. They are prevalent in subjects like cosmetology, hotel management and fire fighting – fields where people who work in those careers do acquire specialized knowledge and skills, but not by getting an advanced college degree.

Professional and trade sources are not peer reviewed. Their quality control is done by editorial staff of the journal or magazine. Professional and trade sources may resemble either scholarly or popular sources. They generally have advertisements for services, equipment and supplies that are used in the profession or trade.

Popular magazines and newspapers

Popular sources include newspapers and magazines. They are intended for a general audience. Some of them, like Popular Mechanics or Yoga Journal are subject-specific, and assume that the audience has an interest in, and some knowledge of that subject. Others, like People Magazine, are intended to appeal to as many consumers as possible.

Quality varies widely. Some popular magazines value their reputation as a reliable source of useful and educational information, while others are meant mainly for entertainment. There is a huge difference between Smithsonian Magazine and Cosmopolitan or Maxim. 

Popular sources are never peer reviewed. Their content is generally written by staff or freelance writers, not by experts. There are exceptions to that rule, but even if the article is written by an expert, it’s written for a general audience. Popular sources are recognizable by the profusion of advertisements, conversational and relatively easy language, and attractive illustrations and graphic elements.