Skip to main content

*Philosophy: Subject Guide: Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals

A starting point for research on all aspects of philosophy.

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals

What is a scholarly journal?

Your instructor has asked you to find an article in a scholarly (or professional or refereed or peer-reviewed) journal. Scholarly journals differ from popular magazines and trade journals/magazines in a number of ways. (See "Comparison Chart" below.) A primary difference between scholarly journals and other types of journals and magazines is that articles in these journals undergo a "peer review" process before they are published. What does this mean?

  • Peer review is the process by which an author's peers, recognized researchers in the field, read and evaluate a paper (article) submitted for publication and recommend whether the paper should be published, revised, or rejected.
  • Peer review is a widely accepted indicator of quality scholarship in a discipline or field. Articles accepted for publication through a peer review process meet the discipline's expected standards of expertise.
  • Peer-reviewed (or refereed) journals are scholarly journals that only publish articles that have passed through this review process.

The following characteristics can help you distinguish between these and two other types of periodicals: popular magazines and trade publications. If in doubt, ask your teacher or a librarian for assistance.


Criteria Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine Trade Magazine/Journal
Content In-depth, primary account of original findings written by the researcher(s); very specific information, with the goal of scholarly communication. Secondary discussion of someone else's research; may include personal narrative or opinion; general information, purpose is to entertain or inform. Current news, trends and products in a specific industry; practical information for professionals working in the field or industry.
Author Author's credentials are provided; usually a scholar or specialist with subject expertise. Author is frequently a journalist paid to write articles, may or may not have subject expertise. Author is usually a professional in the field, sometimes a journalist with subject expertise.
Audience Scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist. Professionals in the field; the interested non-specialist.
Language Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area. Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers. Specialized terminology or jargon of the field, but not as technical as a scholarly journal.
Graphics Graphs, charts, and tables; very few advertisements and photographs. Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs. Photographs; some graphics and charts; advertisements targeted to professionals in the field.
Layout & Organization Structured; includes the article abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography. Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion. Informal; articles organized like a journal or a newsletter. Evidence drawn from personal experience or common knowledge.
Accountability Articles are evaluated by peer-reviewers or referees who are experts in the field; edited for content, format, and style. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff, not experts in the field; edited for format and style. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff who may be experts in the field, not peer-reviewed*; edited for format and style.
References References (a bibliography or works cited list) are always included. Quotes and facts are verifiable. Rare. Little, if any, information about source materials is given. Occasional brief bibliographies, but not required.
Paging Page numbers are often consecutive throughout the volume. Each issue begins with page 1. Each issue begins with page 1.
Other Examples
Scholarly Journals
Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, History of Education Quarterly, Almost anything with Journal in the title.
Popular Magazines
Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Ladies Home Journal, Cooking Light, Discover
Trade Magazines/Journals
Architectural Record, PC World, Restaurant Business, American Libraries, Psychology Today, School Band and Orchestra

Based on Scholarly vs. Popular Materials by Amy VanScoy, NCSU Library

Your Librarian

Brian Kooy
Philosophy, Religious Studies, Middle East Studies, and Political Science Librarian
Contact Info
Library South | 5th floor | Suite 542 |