What is a scholarly (or peer-reviewed) journal?

This guide will help you identify and evaluate scholarly (also known as peer-reviewed) journals, magazines, and trade publications — both print and online.

 For more help, Ask a Librarian.

Scholarly, academic, and peer-reviewed journals

  • Articles are written by and for faculty, researchers or scholars (chemists, historians, doctors, artists, etc.)
  • Use scholarly or technical language
  • Articles tend to be long and detailed, about research in a particular academic discipline
  • Include full citations for sources 
  • Are often refereed or peer-reviewed
  • Include information about the authors 
  • Are published by academic organisations
  • Note: book reviews and editorials are not considered scholarly articles, even when found in scholarly journals


Scholarly journals usually have simple covers, clearly stating basic information like title, volume/issue numbers, and the name of the organisation or university responsible for their publication. 

business history review  child development  the classical review  international journal of middle east studies  American journal of political science


The SFU Library subscribes to thousands of academic (or scholarly) journals. Here are just a few examples:

Popular magazines and articles 

  • Articles are usually written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience
  • Use language easily understood by general readers
  • Rarely give full citations for sources
  • Are written for the general public (non-experts)
  • May present or adapt information originally published in scholarly journals
  • Do not always include information about the authors
  • Articles tend to be shorter than those in academic journals


Popular magazines usually have glossy, coloured covers, designed to attract attention on the newsstand. Pages are usually laid out with photos, appealing graphics, and advertisements. 

brightly coloured cover of astronomy magazine   business week cover  discover magazine cover  time magazine cover  U.S. News cover 


The SFU Library subscribes to many popular magazines, for example:

Trade journals (or publications)

  • Are written by and for people who work in specific industries (such as advertising, education, health care, media, mining, technology, tourism, etc.), or practitioners or teachers with advanced degrees (such as a PhD in Psychology)
  • Often require professional knowledge and vocabulary to be fully understood
  • Are usually published by professional or trade organisations​
  • May present or adapt information originally published in scholarly journals
  • Rarely give full citations for sources
  • May not include information about the writers


Like popular magazines, trade publications may have glossy, coloured covers, advertisements, and appealing graphics. 

 beverage world  hollywood reporter  mediaweek  public management


Choosing academic or popular sources

  • Magazine and journal articles may all be appropriate sources for your work, depending on the subject discipline and the specific assignment. 
  • If in doubt about which sources to use, check with your instructor.

When selecting articles, think about how you intend to use the information

  • Do you want background on a topic new to you? Use magazines for introductory information.  
  • Did your instructor tell you to use scholarly resources? Use scholarly articles or journals. 

Finding scholarly journals at the SFU Library

For an introduction to different ways to search for journal articles, see How to find journal articles. For more about peer-reviewed articles, see What is a peer-reviewed journal?

Limiting or filtering your database search

If you are searching for scholarly or peer-reviewed articles in a database, you may be able to limit your results to peer-reviewed or scholarly journal articles. Watch for check boxes with wording such as "scholarly journals" or "peer-reviewed."

 Caveat: Be cautious when using this feature. Different instructors and publishers will have different definitions of what a scholarly journal is. Use your judgement, and double-check using the criteria on this page as well. 

Additional information and resources

On library research

On evaluating sources

Increasingly, academic publications are available on the open web as well as in Library databases (and of course in print).

An essential part of the research process is to be able to evaluate the authority, relevance, and credibility of sources no matter where you find them.

On journal articles

On writing

The Student Learning Commons offers further resources and services on academic writing.


Much of this guide, and many of the images, have been adapted from a page developed by the University of Arizona Libraries