On this page
- Comparison chart: Scholarly journals, magazines, and trade publications
- Finding scholarly journals at SFU
- Verifying journal types
- How to critically evaluate sources
- Additional information and resources
This guide will help you distinguish between scholarly (also known as peer-reviewed) journals, magazines, and trade publications - both print and online - and will help you identify and evaluate these types of sources.
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- Can also be called academic journal or very often peer-reviewed journal.
- Includes original research articles, written by researchers and experts in a particular academic discipline.
- Also known as scholarly journal, or academic journal, or refereed journal.
- Publishes only original research articles that are subjected to a rigorous evaluation through the peer-review process.
- The majority of scholarly journals go through the peer-review process, although there are some that are scholarly and non-peer reviewed, such as Journal of financial econometrics.
Peer review (or referee) process
- An editorial board asks subject experts to review and evaluate submitted articles before accepting them for publication in a scholarly journal.
- Submissions are evaluated using criteria including the excellence, novelty and significance of the research or ideas.
- Scholarly journals use this process to protect and maintain the quality of material they publish.
- Members of the editorial board are listed near the beginning of each journal issue.
- Provide firsthand information in the original words of the creator or eye witness.
- Include creative works, for example: poetry, drama, novels, music, art, films.
- Include original documents, for example: interviews, diaries, speeches, letters, minutes, film footage, oral histoires, manuscripts.
- Include reports of original research and ideas, for example: statistical data, case studies, conference papers, technical reports and research papers published in scholarly journals.
- For more information, see Primary vs. Secondary Sources in Humanities and in Sciences, from the BMCC Library.
- Provide information reviewing, evaluating, analyzing or interpreting primary sources.
- Include criticism and interpretation of creative works.
- Include interpretations of original documents, for example: biographies, historical analyses, textbooks and encyclopedia articles.
- Include summaries and reviews of scholarly findings, for example review articles, textbooks, encyclopedia articles and both scholarly journal and popular magazine articles.
- Are secondary sources that report and summarize other authors' works on a given subject.
- Are a useful overview tool; they provide a summary of recent research on a particular subject.
- Review articles are not considered research articles.
- Are articles describing new research or ideas.
- Are written in a formal manner that includes background information, methods used, results/interpretation and significance.
Open access (OA) journals
- Are journals that are freely available online - this term specifically refers to free scholarly journals.
- Examples: Northwest Journal of Linguistics, Current Issues in Education.
Comparison chart: Scholarly journals, magazines, and trade publications
Academics and experts in the discipline or field who are always identified
Professional writers, not necessarily experts; writers are not always identified
|Industry experts, professionals, or practitioners who are not always identified|
Facilitate scholarly communication between members of a particular academic discipline and/or the public
Provide general information and entertainment to a broad audience
Provide information to members of a particular industry or profession
May include scholarly review articles or news sections which briefly report on new research; these are not research articles
Plain covers, and generally more charts, graphs, and illustrations than photographs; sometimes advertising
Often have the word "journal" in the title
Information is always specific to a particular academic discipline or field, and usually requires professional or academic knowledge to be fully understood
General interest articles that can include a mixture of fact, anecdote, and/or opinion
Glossy covers, many pictures, extensive use of colour images, and usually much advertising
Often called "popular magazines"
No special vocabulary or knowledge is generally required to understand
Exclusively professional, industry, or trade information
Articles can be fact, anecdote, and/or opinion.
Usually have colourful covers, and quite often advertising specific to the profession, trade, or industry
Often require professional knowledge and vocabulary to be fully understood
|Publishers||Academic organisations||Commercial publishers||Usually professional and trade organisations|
|Citations, footnotes/endnotes, and/or bibliographies||Always||Usually none||Sometimes|
Editorial board members are listed in each journal issue, and/or on the journal's website.
|Format||Print and electronic||Print and electronic||Print and electronic|
|How to access||
Paid subscriptions to print or electronic versions
Electronic versions are usually accessed through subscription databases
Paid subscriptions to print or electronic versions
Electronic versions are usually accessed through databases, and sometimes through the magazine's website
Paid subscriptions to print or electronic versions
Electronic versions are usually accessed through business databases, and sometimes through websites
|Examples of subscription publications|
|Examples of Open access publications|
Another way of determining what kind of serial publication you are using is Verifying Journal types with Ulrich's Periodicals Directory.
Finding scholarly journals at SFU
For many assignments, you may be asked to use only articles from scholarly journals, and you will usually use a database to find these articles. One strategy is to use a database feature that allows you to limit your results to peer-reviewed journal articles only. This feature is available in some databases, but not all. The following screen images show examples of four common databases that allow you to limit search results to peer-reviewed articles. The red arrows point to the limiter checkboxes/tabs:
Note: You must first run a search before you can narrow your results to peer-reviewed journals.
Please see our How to find Journal Articles guide for more information on conducting journal article research.
Verifying journal types
Ulrich's Periodicals Directory
Use Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, a database that contains information on over 240,000 journals, magazines, and newspapers world-wide.
- Connect to Ulrich's Periodicals Directory
- In the quick search box, select Title (exact) and enter: Canadian Journal of History
In the results list, a refereed icon (see the arrow in the screen image below) indicates that a publication is peer-reviewed.
- Click on the journal title to get the detailed record with more information:
- A - Publishing body is an academic organisation
- B - The document type is a Journal; Academic/Scholarly
- C - Once again, it is indicated that the journal is refereed.
In the next screen image, you can see the difference between this scholarly journal and a popular magazine, Maclean's
- A - It is published by a major commercial publisher
- B - The document type is Magazine; consumer
- C - The subject area is General Interest Periodicals
Now look at the Ulrich's record for the trade magazine Food in Canada:
- A - Document type is Magazine; Trade
- B - Special Features include information relevant for an industry such as patents and trade literature.
Existence of editorial board for the journal
Locate the journal's web site and check to see whether the existence of an editorial board is noted on the site.
If there is a print copy of the journal issue, look to see if the journal has an editorial board. This can be in one of several places, such as the inside of the front cover, or in the Instructions for Authors at the back.
How to critically evaluate sources
Learning how to quickly determine the relevance and authority of a given resource for your research is one of the the core skills of the research process, regardless of where you are searching. Use the criteria below to critically evaluate each source you are considering using (especially popular sources).
- The information should not be too old, as it might have been superseded by other research
- Authors and their credentials should be clearly identified
- Authors should have an educational background with past writings and/or experience in the subject area
- In general, government, academic and non-profit web sites are more reliable than personal or commercial web sites
Accuracy and completeness
- Information should appear to be valid and well researched
- Authors should indicate their research methods and provide supportive evidence for their conclusions
- Should not include obvious errors or omissions
- Should have a bibliography
- Should be informing you, not trying to persuade you of something or sell you something
- Information should be fact not opinion (note: skilled writers can make their opinions seem like facts)
- Should not have obvious errors such as poor spelling or poor grammar (unlikely that a reliable source would include such errors)
- Should be logically organized
- Main points should be clearly presented
- Author's argument should not be repetitive or circular
- Given what you already know about the subject, it should seem reasonable
- Should not contradict information you have found elsewhere; if it does check other sources to determine which information is correct
Additional information and resources
See the following SFU guides for more information on periodicals, evaluating information, and on the academic research and writing process:
- Start Your Research Here
- Locating Journals, Magazines, and Newspapers
- Internet Research: Finding and Evaluating Resources
- How to find Journal Articles
- Writing & Style Guides
- Writing for University
The Student Learning Commons offers further resources and services on academic writing.