Distinguishing Between Periodicals, Journals, and Magazines

Periodical: A periodical is any source that is published at regular intervals, such as daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Journals and magazines, which are considered periodicals, are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines.
Scholarly: of or characteristic of a scholar; learned; having or showing much knowledge, accuracy, and critical ability; devoted to learning; studious.
Popular: appealing to or intended for the general public; liked by very many or most people.
Specialized: to follow a special or limited line of endeavor; concentrate on only one part or branch of a subject, profession, etc.

As you read through the following criteria for journals and magazines, realize that none of the lines drawn between types of journals and magazines can ever be totally clear cut. These criteria may be applied to the online version of print periodicals, web-based electronic periodicals as well as the traditional print magazines and journals.


  • Journals are often referred to as "scholarly" or "specialized". They have a very serious appearance, with many graphs and charts, but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.
  • Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies.
  • The articles within the scholarly or specialized journal are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field. The credentials of these individuals are always given. The articles are usually long, anywhere from 3-5 pages, or 5-10 pages.
  • The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.
  • The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.
  • Many of the scholarly or specialized journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization.


  • Magazines are often referred to as "popular' periodicals. They come in many formats, although often quite attractive in appearance, with many photographs, drawings, etc. They also contain quite a few advertisements.
  • Magazines rarely, if ever, cite sources. Information published is often second or third hand, and the original source is sometimes obscure.
  • Articles are usually very short, written in a simple language, and are designed to meet an average educational level. There is generally little depth to the content of these articles.
  • Popular magazines appeal to a wide range of people (any age group).
  • The main purpose of popular magazines is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers), and/or to promote a viewpoint.
Examples of Popular Magazines Examples of Specialized Journals
People Weekly
Sports Illustrated
Good Housekeeping
Business Week
JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
The Modern Language Journal
Journal of Wildlife Diseases
Journal of Educational Research
Journal of Humanistic Psychology

See Also: Periodicals and Journals and How to Find Articles in Periodicals