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Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines: Understanding how intended audience can impact information.

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

Whether in print or online, scholarly (or academic) journals differ from the popular magazines we are accustom to seeing everyday. The difference in both editorial process and intended audience impacts

 reading level 

You'll need to pay attention to points made.  Your focus need to be on making sure you understanding what is being proposed/argued/claimed. Rather than letting yourself become intimidated by the college/professional level writing, try 1) reading the abstract to gain a good general understanding of the article's thesis and research findings 2) reading the discussion section of the article (generally the last section) to examine the author's interpretation of their research findings.


Articles published in scholarly journals are written by experts in the field and go through a much more rigorous editorial process (called "peer review") and credibility is established through this process (even if the article only represents one side of a controversial issue).  Magazines articles are often written by generally trained journalists with no particular expertise in the field or research being presented.  Your focus will need to shift towards establishing the credibility of the information. Examine the the authority of individuals quoted in the article. and the author's research process (usually noted revealed through bibliography and/or links).

Below, examine the differences that will help you to deterimine if an article is from a scholarly journal or a magazine.

Examining the differences...

These resources focus on a field of academic study (and the related research). 

Organization:  Generally organized in volumes (pertaining to year of publication) and issues (within the year, appearing bi-monthly, quarterly, etc.).  Sometimes paging is continuous for entire volume (i.e. Issue 2 may begin with a page number that follows the last page of Issue 1).

Article Length and Structure:  In-depth, including an abstract and list of references with graphics being limited to tables, statistical charts, maps, relevant photographs, models.  Credit are provided through a bibliography and/or footnotes, referring to other scholarly works.  Most common article structure is: 

  • abstract
  • literature review
  • methodology
  • results
  • conclusion
  • bibliography

Authored by:  Scholars and experts within the field. Credentials are listed (both degrees and academic/professional affiliations).

Edited by:  Evaluated by a panel of experts in the field (referred to as “peer reviewed,”  “refereed,” or  “juried.”

Published by:  Publisher is academically affiliated, often a university.

Language:  Technical, using terminology understood by experts or students in the field of study.  

What does it mean to be "peer reviewed?"

Popular Magazines

Intended for the general public, the purpose of popular magazines is to inform or entertain the reader.

Organization:  Includes a variety of articles from feature to regular columns.  Advertisements populate much of the magazine.

Article Length and Structure:  Articles vary in length, generally short.  Topic coverage is a broad overview written for the public.  Highly graphic with lots of photographs.  A bibliography is rarely provided, although source names may be mentioned in the article text.

Authored by:  Written by staff reporters whose professional training is in writing rather than in the topic.  Sometimes articles are not “signed.”

Edited by:  Edited by editorial staff whose expertise is in the area of publication rather than in the topic.

Published by:  Published by an independent company in the publishing business.

Language:  Geared to a broad audience using a non-technical vocabulary.

Specialized Formats:

  • Trade Magazines provide information aimed specifically at those individuals and businesses operating within a specific industry and are often written by others experienced within that industry.  They generally resemble other popular magazines, but ads are geared towards the retail or service provider rather than the end customer.
  • News Weekly magazines are published to provide general news and current information, the language of these magazines is geared to the general public. 
  • Substantive magazines are published to address the interests of an educated audience in a specific content area  (i.e. Scientific American).
  • Sensational magazines are published in magazine or newspaper format and exploit the gullibility of the audience, using curiosity to promote popular myth and increase sales. 

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