Skip to Main Content

Periodicals, Journals, Magazines, and Newspapers: What's the difference?: Home

How to understand the difference between scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, and trade publications.

Subject Index

Search Hiebert Library

Limit to:
Advanced Search

Understanding Periodicals

General Information

A periodical is a publication that is produced regularly at fixed intervals (such as daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually). Most periodicals have a numbering system that includes volume and issue numbers. Sometimes periodicals are also called "serials." Types of periodicals include:

  • Journals
  • Magazine
  • Newspapers
  • Trade publications

Each type of periodical has its own characteristics and purpose. When citing articles for academic research, it is very important to understand these differences, since not all periodical articles are suitable for research documentation. The following descriptions will help you understand various kinds of periodicals.


Journals are usually the best kind of periodical to use when doing academic research. They sometimes also are called "scholarly journals," "peer-reviewed journals," or "academic journals." Here are some things that will help you recognize a journal:

  • Usually have a specific subject focus
  • Articles are generally written by experts in their field
  • Written in scholarly or academic language
  • Report on original research, discoveries, or experiments in a field
  • Authors cite their sources with footnotes, endnotes, or bibliographies
  • Articles often begin with an abstract or summary paragraph
  • Written for researchers, professors, and students in the field rather than a general audience
  • Contain minimal (or no) advertising
  • Titles often contain words like "Journal," "Review," "Research," or "Bulletin."
  • Examples: Journal of American HistoryHarvard Review of PsychiatryBulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Many (though not all) journals contain "peer-reviewed" (or "refereed") articles. A peer-reviewed article has been evaluated by experts in the field who judge whether or not it should be published in the journal. Because they have been evaluated by other experts, peer-reviewed articles are generally of very high quality. The library discovery service allows you to refine your search by selecting "Peer Reviewed" or "Academic Journals" in the "Refine By" box to the left of your search results. The "advanced search" page for any EBSCOhost database allows you to check a box that will limit your search to peer-reviewed articles only. Articles in the JSTOR or SpringerLink databases will generally be peer-reviewed.


Magazines, sometimes referred to with terms like "news," "general interest," or "popular," are generally of less value as sources for academic writing. The following characteristics usually define magazines:

  • Aimed at the general public
  • Contain relatively short articles written in language that most people can understand
  • Often include lots of illustrations and graphics
  • Often have extensive advertising
  • Articles rarely cite sources
  • May contain editorial opinions
  • No peer-review process
  • Examples: Sports IllustratedRolling StonePsychology Today, Time, Newsweek


Newspapers are similar to magazines in that they are written for a general audience for informative, persuasive, or entertainment purposes. They are not typically appropriate as sources in academic writing, though there are exceptions to that rule. Some general characteristics of newspapers include:

  • Traditionally published on large sheets of newsprint paper
  • Usually published daily or weekly
  • Contain articles of very current content
  • Include extensive advertising
  • General articles often are unsigned or anonymous
  • Articles rarely cite sources
  • Usually have an editorial section that includes persuasive and opinion pieces
  • Examples: New York TimesSan Francisco ChronicleFresno Bee.

Trade publications

Trade, or "professional," publications are generally written for a specific industry or profession. Depending on the context, they may be appropriate sources for academic writing, though should be used with caution in that context. You can recognize a trade publication by the following characteristics:

  • Readership is assumed to be practitioners in a particular trade or profession
  • Generally published by professional or trade associations
  • Articles occasionally, but not always, cite sources
  • Generally include practical, rather than theoretical, information
  • Emphasis on industry trends, techniques, and products
  • No peer-review process
  • Advertising is focused on interests of particular trade or profession
  • Examples: Supermarket BusinessAutomotive IndustriesMusic Week