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Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Periodicals: Start here

Your prof wants scholarly stuff right? Here's how to recognize it, find it, and use it when you see it.

Introduction & Definitiions

Journals and magazines are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines, but it is often difficult to distinguish between the various levels of scholarship available in them. In this study guide the criteria for periodical literature is divided into four categories:  

  • Scholarly
  • Substantive News or General Interest
  • Popular
  • Sensational

 Webster's Third International Dictionary defines

scholarly as: 1) concerned with academic study, especially research or 2) exhibiting the methods and attitudes 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 a ‘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.


What is a Periodical?

Magazines are periodicals. Newspapers are periodicals. Why do librarians call themperiodicals? It's our business to collect and provide access to all kinds of publications. We use the word "periodical" to distinguish publications that are issued periodically--daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly--from publications that are issued singly, like books. 

Newspapers and magazines

  • are published daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly
  • appeal to broad demographic groups
  • sell 10,000-2,000,000 copies

Librarians and publishers call newspapers and magazines "popular" periodicals.


  • are published monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually
  • appeal to narrow clusters of academics and researchers
  • sell 500-5,000 copies, mostly to libraries

Journals are also often called academic or scholarly to indicate both their origins (often in academic institutions) and audiences (often scholars). They are also often peer-reviewed or refereed.

People new to these terms often confuse journal with article. An article is a single authored item within any kind of periodical. A journal is a periodically-published collection of articles by different authors.


This Guide is generally adapted from the Cornell Guide:

Video from Vanderbilt U.

PDF illustrating two articles

Here is an illustration of the differences between popular and scholarly articles, showing one of each type on the same topic (from Ohio University Libraries).   The PDF contains two pages.  Be sure to scroll to the next page to see the popular article.

Reviews of Periodicals

There are reference books which attempt to describe and evaluate periodical titles.  If you need further information about an individual title we suggest you consult: