A very short guide to periodicals


Course Info


What's academic and what's not

In popular culture "academic" is a slur adjective meaning "pointless" or "trivial," so it's only fair that in academic culture "popular" means the same thing. Newcomers to college often are surprised to learn what sources are considered to be unreliable in academic circles. Sources trusted by the population at large may be distrusted and even scorned by academics.

Socrates says, I told you so!




Course Info


Course goals

What you will need

Course policies


(for Fall 2004)

Course Index


One of the useful print outs available for students at the TC3 library charts four different kinds of periodicals (meaning publications that are printed periodically, such as magazines and journals). The chart (reproduced crudely below) helps us to classify sources according to their academic research value.





What's the Purpose?

Communication between researchers in an academic discipline (e.g. physics, psychology, education, history, literature). Advancement of knowledge.

Communication between people who share in a profession (e.g. teacher, banker, office manager, restaurant owner)

Making money through advertising to the educated public. Providing important or interesting ideas in the sciences, arts, politics and culture. 

Making money through advertising to mass audiences. Entertaining the general public. 

Who are the authors? 

 Researchers, usually academics

Professionals who work in the profession or trade.

In general reporters or professional writers who have researched the issue    

Usually, staff writers working under tight deadlines. Articles are often anonymous.


 Who's the Audience?


Other researchers, scholars and other experts who need to keep up with new developments (e.g. a substance abuse counselor might subscribe to a journal of recent research)

People who work in the field addressed.

General public rather than specialists. 

General public rather than specialists.

What's the Style?  




Formal, may use technical language those outside the discipline would not understand. Most often reports the results of an experiment or investigation.  Other articles may be more theoretical.

Few graphics. No ads. 

May be formal or informal. May use jargon specific to the trade that outsiders wouldn't understand.

Graphic style varies from typed newsletters to full­color glossies.

Written for people with strong vocabularies and reading comprehension.

Interesting graphic presentations. Extensive advertising.

Generally easy rending, very brief texts with relatively simple vocabulary. 

Strong graphic layout. Graphics may take more space than text. Full of ads.

How are sources handled?

Sources are cited. Articles include lengthy lists of references to previous research on the topic. 

Few sources are cited. Occasionally a few footnotes and references are used.

No citations. But  stories often reveal names of persons who have provided information for the article.

No citations. Sources are often anonymous. Gossip format often is used: "A high ranking government official tells us." 

Who's the Publisher? 

Professional societies such as the Society for Research in Child Development. Or specialized publishers like University presses that publish only scholarly journals.

Trade associations and business organizations.

Commercial publishers.

Commercial publishers.

What are the Uses for Students?

Acceptable and often required for college research papers. Get acquainted with scholarly journals to see where research in your field is headed. Begin by reading abstracts (summaries at the beginning of the article); you can learn more from reading ten abstracts than from struggling through one 20-page study.

 Generally acceptable for use in college research papers, but often the evidence cited is anecdotal (stories about one person's or organization's experience) rather than research-based. Can you find any research to support it?

Can provide leads to experts and stimulate general ideas to research in more serious sources. Be sure to find some original research to accompany these articles.

In general, not acceptable for college research papers. Said what? Not acceptable for college research papers. What? Not acceptable for college research papers.  

What are some examples?

Human Communication Research, Rand Journal of Economics, Journal of Research in Music Education, Journal of Molecular Structure

American Teacher, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Hotel & Motel Management

Scientific American, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Science News, American Spectator

Redbook, Parents, People Weekly, Reader's Digest, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek.

Dr. G's comment: Daily newspapers and weekly magazines fall mostly in the "Popular" category, although a few for special audiences may be considered "Substantive." In journalism, the time pressures under which writers must work are severe, so few journalists can become "experts" in the subjects that they write about, and real depth of reporting is rare. A journalist can arrive on the scene of a fire and quickly become the best source of information for that particular scene, but that doesn't mean she's also the best source of information about firefighting equipment, causes of fires, or fire safety codes for buildings. If she dabbles in these subjects in her report about the fire, she will have to rely on what other people say, and she will have little knowledge by which to evaluate their testimony.

Fire chief: "If we had the latest model fire truck, this building might have been saved."
Tenant: "The damn landlord never fixed the electric."
Building inspector: "More regulation is needed to avoid future tragedies like this."

All of these stories could sell papers! But will they be true stories?


MLA citation makes distinctions between "journals" and "magazines." In general, for citation purposes, treat scholarly, professional and trade periodicals as journals. and treat the rest as magazines. The distinction really has to do with whether the periodical issues eventually get bound in hard cover form as volumes (in which case the periodical is a journal) or whether the issues remain only in paperback (a magazine). The idea is that journals hold lasting knowledge while magazines have only ephemeral use.




gutchess@englishare.net                    Academic writing home page                    Gary Gutchess © 2003