What is a Scholarly Journal?

Your professor has asked you to find a scholarly, professional, academic, peer-reviewed*, or refereed* journal as opposed to a popular magazine. There is no clear-cut definition, but here are some clues to help you distinguish between them.

Scholarly Journals

Popular Magazines

Written for Professors & scholars General public
Written by Scholars, researchers, academics Journalists, staff writers, freelance writers

Serious & sober with few colors

Advertisements and photographs rare

Glossy with advertisements

Many photographs


Are signed and often include author's credentials

Are written in scholarly & specialized language of discipline

Give more detailed discussion of an event


Contain footnotes and bibliographies

Contain charts & graphs

Are not always signed by author

Are written in relatively simple language

Give first reports of an event


Values & uses Reports on original research;
in-depth analysis of topics;
statistical information;
academic book reviews
Current events and news;
hot topics;
brief, factual information;
Examples Advances in Nursing Science
Journal of Abnormal Psychology
Modern Fiction Studies
National Geographic


*Peer-reviewed/Refereed - articles are published only after receiving approval by an editorial board of experts (the author's "peers"). This means that a subject expert must review and correct the article before the journal will publish it. Consequently, peer-reviewed journal articles are typically considered higher quality than non-peer-reviewed articles (adapted from Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries).

For a short explanation of peer review in scientific fields visit Making sense of science stories, a PDF document from the organization Sense About Science.

Updated 15-May-2009 SWH