Skip to Main Content

Online MSW Program Library Research Guide: Scholarly Journals vs. Non-Scholarly

Library resources and information for students in the online Graduate School of Social Service program; Librarian Nick Alongi, Editor.

Journals vs Magazines: What's the Difference?

Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Other Periodicals


Journals, magazines, and newspapers are important sources for up-to-date information in all disciplines. It is often difficult to distinguish between the various levels of scholarship found in journals and magazines.

Here, the criteria for evaluating periodical literature is divided into four categories: Scholarly, Substantive News/General Interest, Popular, and Sensational. 

Scholarly Journals

  • Also called academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed journals.  The reviewers must agree that the article represents properly conducted original research or writing before it can be published.
  • Have a sober, serious look.  They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.
  • Often have an abstract, a descriptive summary of the article contents, before the main text of the article.
  • Always cite their sources in the form of footnotes, bibliographies, or references. These bibliographies are generally lengthy and cite other scholarly writings.
  • Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field. The affiliations of the authors are listed, usually at the bottom of the first page or at the end of the article--universities, research institutions, think tanks, and the like.
  • The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.
  • Many are published by a specific professional organization.
  • The language is that of the discipline covered.  It assumes some technical background on the part of the reader.


American Economic Review, Archives of Sexual Behavior, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Marriage and the Family (published by the National Council on Family Relations), Modern Fiction Studies, Journal of Theoretical Biology


Substantive News or General Interest

  • May be attractive in appearance, although some are in newspaper format.  Articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs.
  • Articles may be written by a member of the editorial staff, a scholar, or a free lance writer.
  • Sometimes cite sources, though more often do not.
  • Language is geared to any educated audience.  There is no specialty assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence.
  • Generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, although some emanate from specific professional organizations.
  • --The main purpose of popular periodicals in this category is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concerned citizens.


The Economist, National Geographic, The New York Times, Scientific American, Vital Speeches of the Day



  • Appear in many formats, although often slick and attractive in appearance with lots of color graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.)
  • Do not cite sources in a bibliography.  Information published in popular periodicals is often second or third hand and the original source is rarely mentioned.
  • Articles are usually very short and written in simple language.
  • The main purpose is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers), or to promote a viewpoint.


Ebony, Parents, People Weekly, Readers' Digest, Sports Illustrated, Vogue



  • Come in a variety of styles, but often use a newspaper format.
  • Language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory. They assume a certain gullibility in their audience.
  • The main purpose seems to be to arouse curiosity and to cater to popular superstitions.  They often do so with flashy headlines designed to astonish.


Globe, National Examiner, Star, Weekly World News


Reproduced and Adapted With Permission from Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY






Reference & Instruction Department

Reference & Instruction Department
Fordham University Libraries

Walsh Library  ♦  Rose Hill Campus  ♦  718-817-3586   
Quinn Library  ♦  Lincoln Center Campus  ♦  212-636-6050   
Fordham Westchester Library  ♦  Fordham Westchester Campus  ♦  914-367-3061   ♦   text 71-TXTX-1284 ♦ 
Ask a Librarian (Chat)