Skip to Main Content


This psychology subject guide is a work-in-progress created to help support you in your research.

Psychology Databases

Distinguishing Scholarly from Non-Scholarly Periodicals

Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines.  It may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between scholarly journals and magazines.  In this guide we will review the major differences between these two sources.

Definitions:  Webster's Third International Dictionary defines "scholarly" as: 1)concerned with academic study, especially research, 2)exhibiting the methods and attitudes of a scholar, and 3) having the manner and appearance of a scholar.  "Substantive" is defined as "having a solid base, being substantial."  "Popular" means "fit for, or reflecting the taste and intelligence of the people at large."  "Sensational" is defined as "arousing or intending to arouse strong curiosity, interest or reaction."  Keeping these definitions in mind, and realizing that none of the lines drawn between types of journals can ever be totally clear cut, we can say that in general the criteria are as follows:


• Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look; often containing many graphs and charts
• Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies                            
• Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field
• The language is technical and subject specific.  It assumes 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 scholarly journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization
• Articles submitted for publication follow strict formats and are peer reviewed
• They almost always have an abstract (brief summary of the research findings)
• Most scholarly journal subscriptions are very expensive


American Economic Review      
Archives of Sexual Behavior
JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
Journal of Marriage and Family      
Modern Fiction Studies
Sex Roles: A Journal of Research


Substantive News or General Interest

• These periodicals may be quite attractive in appearance, although some are in newspaper format                                                                  • Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs
• News and general interest periodicals sometimes cite sources, a scholar or a free lance writer                                     
• The language of these publications is geared to any educated audience                                                                                                              • There is no special training assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence
• They are generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, although some emanate from specific professional organizations
• The main purpose of periodicals in this category is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concerned citizens


Christian Science Monitor 
National Geographic
New York Times 
Scientific American
Vital Speeches of the Day



• Popular periodicals come in many formats, although they are often somewhat slick and attractive in appearance                                          • They contain lots of graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.)
• These publications rarely, if ever, cite sources                                                                                                                                                          • Information published in such journals is second or third hand and the original source is sometimes obscure
• Articles are usually very short, written in simple language and are designed to meet a minimal education level.  There is generally little depth to the content of these articles.
• Articles are written by staff members or free-lance writers
• The main purpose of popular periodicals is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers'), and/or to promote a viewpoint


People Weekly
Reader's Digest
Sports Illustrated



• Sensational periodicals come in a variety of styles, but often use a newspaper format 
• The language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational.  They assume a certain gullibility in their audience.
• The main purpose of sensational magazines seems to be to arouse curiosity and to cater to popular superstitions.  They often do so with flashy headlines designed to astonish (e.g.. "Half-man Half-woman Makes Self Pregnant").


National Examiner
Weekly World News