University of Minnesota, Crookston
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Academic (scholarly/refereed) Journals vs Popular (General) Magazines

      How to tell  the difference

There is no clear-cut definition for a scholarly journal, but below are some clues that may assist you to distinguish between them and popular magazines. A scholarly journal cannot be defined by one or two features, nor do all features have to be present to make it a professional journal. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to each characteristic listed. You are not able to tell if a publication is a scholarly journal by simply looking a the name. There are many examples when a periodical has the word, journal, in the title, but in fact, is not a scholarly journal. The Wall Street Journal and Ladies Home Journal are examples of this.

If in doubt, ask your instructor or a librarian for help.




AuthorJournalist, layperson, sometimes author unknownExpert, scholar, professional, professor
 References Cited  Usually no bibliography Includes a bibliography
 EditingReviewed by one or more persons employed by magazines Editorial board or outside scholars review articles before publishing, peer reviewers who referee the journal
 Audiences General public  Scholars, researchers, students of the field
 Advertisements Many Few to none
 Look  Glossy, many pictures  More unadorned looking
 Frequency Usually weekly or monthly  Usually monthly or quarterly
 Content  General interest, often reports opinion and often in a story format More specialized, research based
 Language  High school or lower  More technical vocabulary
 Indexed Found in general periodical indexes Found in specialized indexes


      Gray Literature

There is another group of information that is commonly called gray literature. It is defined as any documentary material that is not commercially published. It is typically composed of technical reports, working papers, business documents, and conference proceedings. The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature (GL '99) in Washington, DC, in October 1999 defined grey literature as follows: "That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers."

Other Examples of gray literature include, but are not limited to, the following types of materials: reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the art reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (primarily government reports and documents). The greatest challenge with gray literature is the absence of editorial control, which raises questions about authenticity and reliability

Owen Williams
University of Minnesota, Crookston Library