Identifying Scholarly Resources: Journals

Collage of cover images of various scholarly journals.

Journals are a scholarly type of serial (or periodical): something we subscribe to, rather than buying once. There are other types of serials: popular magazines, newspapers, and trade publications.

The following chart outlines the differences between types of serials.


  • scholarly articles
  • audience: other scholars
  • written by subject experts (scholars), usually researchers publishing their results
  • purpose: advancement of knowledge, communication between scholars
  • subscriptions are sold to research institutions, not available in stores
  • no advertising
  • focused on a specific academic subject or field

Popular magazines

  • general interest articles
  • audience: the general public
  • writers are journalists, hired by the publication paid for articles
  • purpose: profit-making - advertising and sales influence content and design
  • subscriptions sold to individuals, and issues sold in stores
  • numerous advertisements
  • may have a specific focus - some are more educational and informative than others


  • audience: general public
  • writers are journalists, hired and paid for articles
  • purpose: news, current events, general interest
  • profit-making, ads are prominent
  • subscriptions sold to individuals, issues available in stores
  • no specific subject focus

Trade Publications

  • audience: those employed in a specific field
  • writers are journalists with knowledge of the trade
  • purpose: news, current awareness, professional development
  • usually practical, applied information
  • subscriptions sold to individuals, issues may be available in stores
  • focused on a particular industry/trade/business

Scholarly Journals

It's usually easy to tell a newspaper or trade publication from a journal. Sometimes it's also clear when a magazine is popular (eg. fashion or gossip magazines). But there are times when it's hard to decide if a journal is truly scholarly, because popular magazines can still be educational and informative.

Is it always wrong to use a non-scholarly journal?

  • No. Sometimes there are excellent reasons for using popular magazines, newspapers, or trade publications, and they may be interesting additions to your research.
  • But it's important that you know when you are choosing a scholarly journal and when you are not. If your research requires scholarly journals, know how to recognize them.

If it's in a scholarly journal, does that automatically make it a scholarly article?    

  • No. Scholarly journals may also include letters and book reviews that are not peer-reviewed. Read these as personal opinion pieces.

Follow these links to learn the criteria for assessing whether a journal is scholarly.
Consider the following parts:

In the end, use your judgement to assess whether a journal is scholarly or not. Use the above criteria to help you decide, but a journal doesn't necessarily need to meet ALL the criteria to be considered scholarly. It may depend on the discipline or your topic/purpose. If in doubt, ask your professor or a librarian for an opinion.


Have you read about the four parts of a journal to consider - Title, Cover, Publisher, Peer-Review Process?

Now try a some examples, and see if you can identify which ones are scholarly.  When you're done, you'll end up back here.

Click to try examples.


This completes the section on scholarly journals. Return to the scholarly resources page or proceed to the next section, on Author Credentials.