Skip to Main Content

Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

Outlines the differences between articles published in scholarly journals, popular magazines, and trade journals.



Most content found on websites would be considered popular sources!

Some exceptions might be research published on the website of a scientific organization (like the National Institutes of Health, or NASA) or scholarly articles found via sources like Google Scholar.

While websites can contain useful and reliable information, they are rarely written by scholars and researchers (and can be written by anybody, including people who know nothing about a topic and are just selling something or expressing an opinion). Be careful to particularly evaluate any information you find on the web to determine if it is credible.

Use our guide on Evaluating Websites and Other Sources to help, or ask a librarian!

Reading a Scholarly Article

Reading a scholarly article takes a different strategy than we may be used to. Use our How to Read a Scholarly Article research guide to help you navigate these kinds of sources.

Still need help? Ask a Librarian!

How Can I Tell if an Article is "Scholarly"?

Almost all scholarly articles will have most or all of the following:

  •  Footnotes and/or citations
  •  Acknowledgment of authors, their credentials (PhD, MD, RN, etc.), and their affiliations (for instance, University of California, etc.)
  •  Technical vocabulary
  •  Experiments, studies or literature reviews
  •  Graphs, tables, and data

Ask the Librarians!

Searched the databases and still coming up empty? Found a source but aren't sure if it's scholarly or popular?

Librarians are always here to help! Never hesitate to ask a question, whether you:


Keep calm and ask a librarian on a purple background

Academic Journals

Journal of Professional Nursing    American Journal of Nursing

What they're called:

  • Academic journals
  • Scholarly journals
  • Peer-reviewed journals
  • Refereed publications

Types of articles:

  • Research articles
  • Clinical case studies
  • Empirical studies
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Literature reviews
  • Experimental articles

Magazines & Popular Sources

Time magazine    People magazine    Discover magazine

  Publications covering:

  • Business
  • Hobbies
  • News
  • People
  • Popular culture (music, movies etc.)
  • Sports
  • Psychology
  • Popular Science

Trade Publications

 The Police Chief     Advertising Age 

Written by and for professionals and practitioners
in a field regarding trends, technology, and information
about the day-to-day specifics of their jobs (for instance,
marketers writing about the advertising industry).

Usually considered more popular than scholarly since
they do not publish original research in the field.

Academic Journals, Magazines, and Trade Journals


Academic Journals


Trade Journals

Purpose To publish research and scholarship To inform and entertain To inform and support
Audience Researchers, scientists, scholars, professors, graduate and undergraduate students General readers Members of a profession
Authors Scholars & researchers with credentials, and institutional affiliations listed. Journalists & writers. Often unattributed. Journalists, practitioners in the field.
Editors Board of scholars working in the specific discipline or field covered by the journal Employees of the magazine Employees of the publication
Review process Peer-review: Articles are reviewed by scholars in the field with extensive knowledge of the subject matter. Editor, and perhaps a fact-checker; employees of the magazine Reviewed by publication employees
Frequency Monthly, quarterly, bi-annually Weekly or monthly Weekly or monthly
Appearance Plain, often B&W. Lots of text, often with charts & graphs. Very few advertisements. Glossy, with lots of pictures and advertisements. Glossy or newspaper-like. Pictures and advertising.
Language Specialized language of the academic discipline. Everyday language Technical jargon of the field
Length of articles Usually long Usually short or very brief Varies
Format of articles Structured: abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, conclusion No formal structure Usually no formal structure
Documentation Often extensive bibliography of works cited, or footnotes/references. Informal mention of sources in the text Sometimes includes bibliographies/references

To cite this LibGuide use the following templates:

APA: Northern Essex Community College Library. (Date updated). Title of page. Title of LibGuide. URL

MLA: Northern Essex Community College Library. "Title of Page." Title of LibGuide, Date updated, URL.