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University at Buffalo Libraries

Periodicals by Type

How to Evaluate Periodicals

Periodicals (also known as serials ) are publications printed "periodically". This means they are published either daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or on an annual basis. The terms periodical , serial , magazine , and journal , are often used interchangeably; however, there are discernable differences among them. Regardless of how they are referred to, the most important thing you will need to know about periodicals is how to evaluate one type from another.

General vs. Scholarly Periodicals?

It is important in research to know how to distinguish between general periodical publications and academic ones. When doing research for assignments you will often be required to seek out articles from academic journals. The UB Libraries subscribe to hundreds of different academic journals, therefore it is important you be able to tell them apart from other types of general journals and publications.

Listed below are some overall characteristics of different types of periodical publications to consider. For more detailed descriptions of  various forms of periodicals, go to Periodicals by Type.

Academic/Scholarly/Refereed/Peer-reviewed Journals | Popular Periodicals
General Interest Periodicals | Sensational Periodicals | Trade Periodicals


Academic/Scholarly/Refereed/Peer-reviewed Journals

Academic journals publish scholarly and peer-reviewed (also known as refereed) articles. The most important characteristic of scholarly articles that separates them from general or popular ones is that their data and information have been extensively checked and documented. If a scholarly article has been peer-reviewed, that means it has gone through a process in which a panel board of experts (usually other academics) have reviewed its contents and decided it was suitable for publication. Examples of scholarly journals include JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Science and the Harvard Business Review.

Other Characteristics:

  • Academic journals contain extensive, lengthy and detailed articles.
  • Articles are written by specialists and experts doing original research within a particular field of study.
  • Articles are reviewed and evaluated by other specialist in the field before they are published.
  • Articles are intended for professors, researchers, students, and others in the academic community.
  • Articles written in technical or professional language of the field.
  • A bibliography is always given at the end of each article.
  • Usually plain in appearance containing little if any advertisements.

Popular Periodicals

Popular periodicals do not cite their sources. While they are good sources for background material, you should not expect them to provide you with bibliographies or other cited works for additional reference. Examples of popular periodicals include magazines like Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, and Vogue.

Other Characteristics:

  • Articles usually give a broad overview of a topic.
  • The information provided is usually written in an informal and general way so that anyone can understand the subject manner.
  • Articles are usually written by staff writers and other non-specialist.
  • The main objective of these publications is entertainment, advertising, and the marketing of particular viewpoints.
  • They usually contain colorful photographs, drawings, graphics and advertisements.
  • They are often attractive in appearance.
  • Most often they do not cite original sources and get their information second or third hand.

General Interest Periodicals

General interest periodicals fall into a "gray area". They often possess attributes of both popular and scholarly publications. If you want to use an article from a general interest publication as a cited source, it is always a good idea to first check with your instructor. Examples of general interest publications include National Geographic, The Economist, and Scientific American.

Other Characteristics:

  • Articles may be written by staff writers or scholars within a particular field.
  • They may or may not cite their sources.
  • Articles are written in an intelligent manner for an educated audience, although they are not as academic as those found in scholarly journals.
  • The main objective of this publication is to inform the reader about a particular topic in an intelligent but understandable manner.
  • They tend to be attractive and heavily illustrated with photographs like popular magazines.

Sensational Publications

Examples of sensational publications include The National Enquirer, Globe, Star, and Weekly World News.

Other Characteristics:


Trade Periodicals

Trade periodicals include current news, trends and products in a specific industry as well as practical information for professionals working in the field or industry.

Other Characteristics:

  • Documentation of sources is not required, though sometimes brief bibliographies of further readings are included
  • Include jargon and terms that are commonly used in the profession or trade
  • Moderate number of advertisements targeted to the interests of the members of a profession, industry, or organization
  • Authors are Members of the profession or trade, specialized journalists, or technical writers
  • Credentials are usually not provided.