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library reference guides: Defining scholarly journals

 

In choosing articles to use as background for research, it is important to be able to distinguish between the scholarly and the popular press. In general, articles from the scholarly press are viewed as having more "authority"; they are written by experts in a field, reviewed by other experts and represent the results of scholarly research. Articles from the popular press are written and published more quickly; they may represent a less "authoritative" or expert point of view. Depending on the nature of your research, you may want to focus on the scholarly press as opposed to the popular press, you may want to consider both points of view, or you may want to focus on just the popular press.

There are clues, both visual and content-oriented, which can help you distinguish between the scholarly and popular presses. It is important to be aware that when you view full-text articles online through a computer terminal, you still need to make these distinctions. Here are some characteristics which may help you identify whether an articles is from the scholarly or the popular press.

Scholarly Press (often referred to as a "journal" article)

  • author listed; is a professional or other expert
  • text reports research results, includes specialized vocabularly, is aimed at a scholarly audience
  • article includes "references" to other works; often at the end of the text
  • hard copy of journal includes very little (or highly specialized) advertising
  • journal lists an editorial board composed of scholars in the field (look for this near table of contents)
  • journal deals exclusively with a limited scholarly field (review table of contents)
  • journal is published monthly or less often
  • articles are listed in specialized indexes, such as "PsychLit" or "Biosis" or "Humanities Index"

Popular Press (often referred to as a "magazine" article)

  • author often not listed; is a journalist or lay person
  • text reports events or opinions; is aimed at a general audience (easy to read)
  • articles rarely include "references" to other works
  • hard copy of magazine includes a significant amount of advertising
  • magazine lists member(s) of magazine's staff as editor(s) or editorial board member(s)
  • magazine deals with current events or a popular field of general interest (review table of contents)
  • magazine is published monthly or more often
  • articles are listed in indexes such as "Reader's Guide" or "Periodicals Index" or "Magazine Index ASAP"

IMPORTANT: Some indexes, such as "Expanded Academic Index" (available online through InfoTrac) include both scholarly and popular articles.

This material adapted from "What is a Scholarly Journal?", Chuck Dintrone, Coordinator of Bibliographic Instruction, San Diego State University, March 1991, and reprinted with permission from Hamline University Libraries

Last modified Thursday October 09, 2014

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