Scholarly journals vs Popular magazines Guide

Scholarly journals are often referred to as peer reviewed or referred journals. They contain articles that have undergone a review process by selected experts in the field before being accepted for publication. They have a serious format and usually have charts and graphs to illustrate concepts. All of the sources are cited with footnotes and/or a bibliography. Scholars or researchers in a specific discipline or field write the articles. The material uses the terminology and language of the discipline and the reader is expected to have a similar background. The purpose of these journals is to report or make research available to the scholarly world. Many of these journals are published by a professional organization. Use scholarly journals if you need verifiable and highly credible information. Scholarly journals often feature primary research with detailed analysis.

General interest or popular magazines do not undergo peer review. They usually have an attractive format with photos and illustrations. They are frequently written for a general audience by a staff or scholarly writer. The language is simple and easy to understand. The purpose of these publications is to provide general information, entertain, and sometimes to sell products. They are published by commercial enterprises for profit. Use popular interest journals if you only require general information about a topic. Do not expect to find substantial detail or in-depth analysis.


Scholarly Journal

Popular Magazine

  • Sober and serious
  • May contain graphs or charts
  • Will not find glossy pages or photographs
  • Attractive appearance
  • Advertisements
  • Heavily illustrated
  • Glossy paper
Scholars and students
General audience
Scholars in the field of study
Reporters, usually not experts on the subject
Sources cited in footnotes and/or bibliography
Sources not cited or cited informally
Report results of original research or experimentation
Provide general information
Article Acceptance Procedure
Many scholarly journals are "refereed journals" - they undergo a process called "peer-review" where other scholars in the field examine the articles before being published.
Written by hired reporters, edited by magazine editors, and published.
American Journal of Psychology Journal of the American Medical Association American Quarterly
Psychology Today Newsweek National Geographic

Grateful Acknowledgement: This is a modified version of a document originally created by librarians at the Duke University.

How to Find Scholarly/Peer Reviewed Journals Using Library Databases

Many databases provide ways for you to limit your search to just scholarly/peer reviewed sources. This option is often available on the Advanced Search screen. When searching in a database, look for a box to check that reads "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals," "Peer Reviewed," or something similar to limit your search.


Can't tell if something is scholarly, popular or trade? Ask a Librarian or Google the title to find the home page for the publication.