Periodical Sources Research Paper

Periodicals: Popular And Scholarly

  • What is a periodical? A periodical is a publication with multiple articles which appears more than once, usually on a regular basis. Articles from periodicals provide more recent information than books, since they can be published more quickly.
  • Magazines, scholarly journals and newspapers are all periodicals. Being aware of the different types helps you select the most appropriate one for your research needs. The distinguishing features of each are outlined in the table below. Magazines and newspapers are sometimes referred to as popular material, because they are written for a general audience.
  • You should use journal articles when you need focused, up-to-date information on a topic. In general, you should use scholarly sources for your research because they provide a greater depth of information. However, in some cases it is also acceptable to use popular sources such as newspapers. Check with your professor.
NAME: What type of periodical?Magazine, NewspaperJournal
AUTHOR: Who writes an article published in the periodical?Journalist, Reporter, WriterScholar, Expert, Researcher, Scientist
AUDIENCE: Who is the intended reader or buyer of the periodical?General Public, EveryoneScholar, Expert, Researcher, Scientist, College Student, Graduate Student
ARTICLE LENGTH: Generally how long is a feature article?Short, One to Five pagesLong; Ten pages or more
FREQUENCY: How often is the periodical published?Daily, Weekly, MonthlyPer Year: Annual (1), Semi-Annual (2), Quarterly (4), Monthly (10-12)
APPROVAL PROCESS: Who approves a manuscript before it is actually published?Editor or a few EditorsPeers or Referees; other Scholars, Experts, Researchers, Scientists who serve as readers to review manuscripts before they are accepted for publication; most journals have such a process, those which do are called Peer-Reviewed or Refereed
LANGUAGE: Is the writing at a high or low reading level?Common Language, Everyday Language; 6th to 8th Grade Reading LevelHigher level reading; Detail oriented, with language which is sophisticated, specialized, technical
SUPPORTING MATERIALS: Does an article routinely have a list of sources at the end of the article which the writer consulted?Pictures, Illustrations, GraphicsScholarly Apparatus: footnotes, endnotes, bibliography, reading or reference list, charts, graphs, tables
ACCESSIBILITY: How easy or difficult is it to obtain or access the periodical? Where is it accessed?Easy to access; Newsstand, Deli, Grocery Store, Bodega, SupermarketPurchase at bookstore, e.g. Barnes & Noble; Academic or Research Library, sometimes Public Library
COST: How much does the periodical cost? Expensive or inexpensive?For Profit, but InexpensiveNon-Profit, but Expensive

Examples of magazines include: Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.

Examples of newspapers are: The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Examples of scholarly journals are: American Historical Review, Social Psychology Quarterly and The Art Bulletin.

When writing a research paper, it is acceptable to use some popular material, such as magazine and newspaper articles, but your paper should not be based solely on popular literature sources. It is a good idea to consult with your professor about the types of sources that he or she feels are appropriate to the assignment.

If our library doesn't own an article online, we may have a print equivalent, or you may be able to get a copy through Interlibrary Loan.

Courtesy Prof. James Mellone

For more information, please see Cornell University's guide to distinguishing scholarly journals from other materials.

A "periodical" is any publication that comes out regularly or occasionally (i.e. periodically, get it?). TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, The Journal of Anthropological Research, The World Almanac, and the phone book are all periodicals. The are also know as "serials."

A "magazine" is a periodical with a popular focus, i.e. aimed at the general public, and containing news, personal narratives, and opinion. Articles are often written by professional writers with or without expertise in the subject; they contain "secondary" discussion of events, usually with little documentation (e.g. footnotes). Magazines use vocabulary understandable to most people, and often have lots of eye-catching illustrations. Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and Psychology Today are magazines

A "journal" is a scholarly periodical aimed at specialists and researchers. Articles are generally written by experts in the subject, using more technical language. They contain original research, conclusions based on data, footnotes or endnotes, and often an abstract or bibliography. The Journal of Physical Chemistry, The Chaucer Review, The Milbank Quarterly, and Labor History are examples of journals.

It's important to understand the differences between journals and magazines. Magazines are not necessarily bad or low quality (nor are journals necessarily high quality) -- they simply aren't designed to support most upper-level academic research. This is because they don't document their sources of information, and they generally lack the depth of scholarly journals.

The table below highlights the differences. For more information check out our Understanding Journals guide.


 Journals - ScholarlyMagazines - Popular
ContentDetailed report or original research or experiment.Secondary report or discussion; may include personal narrative, opinion, anecdotes
AuthorAuthor’s credentials are given; usually a scholar with subject expertiseAuthor may or may not be named; often a professional writer; may or may not have subject expertise.
AudienceScholars, researchers, and studentsGeneral public; the interested non-specialist
Refereed/peer-reviewed?  [What's this?]UsuallyNo
LanguageSpecialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires prior knowledgeVocabulary in general usage; understandable to most readers
Layout & OrganizationFormal organization often begins with an abstract of the article; if reporting experimental findings notes the experiment’s purpose, methodology, and analysis of the results; a conclusion, and a bibliography; may include charts or graphs, but rarely photographs.Informal organization: eye-catching type and formatting, usually includes illustrations or photographs. May not intend to present an idea with supporting evidence or come to a conclusion
Bibliography & ReferencesRequired. All quotes and facts can be verified.Rare. Scanty, if any, information about sources.
ExamplesDevelopmental Psychology
JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association

The words "journal" or "review" often appear in the title


Almost anything available in a store or news stand.

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