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Distinguishing Information Sources


Types of periodicals | Primary & Secondary Sources | Refereed or Peer-Reviewed Journals

Types of periodicals

What are the Differences between Periodicals, Magazines, Journals, and Serials?

A periodical is a generic term used for popular magazines, scholarly journals, and subject or professional publications. They are materials that are published at regular intervals (monthly, quarterly, daily, etc.)

Periodicals are important because they are an excellent method of getting current information. Subjects that are new or too specialized to be covered in books can often be found in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Periodicals have a variety of purposes and kinds of audiences. They may include news, opinion, editorial comments, scholarly analysis and research. They range from newsletters of trade organizations to in-depth journals published by scientific societies and university presses.

You will have to make an informed choice about the type of periodicals needed for a given research project. Magazines may be appropriate for some purposes, journals of opinion for others, but usually the most important sources for college level research are academic journals. The definitions below will help you understand these terms.

  • Magazines are commercial publications intended for a general, popular audience for the purpose of informing and entertaining.


  • Journals are specialized, scholarly publications written by authorities in the field. They usually include bibliographies. Students in college and graduate level courses should be using scholarly journals rather than magazines.


  • Subject or professional magazines fall in between magazines and journals, with articles written by experts but intended less to advance the field than to report on developments of interest.


  • Trade journals also fall in between magazines and journal, but their focus includes more product and business information.


  • Serial is a term meaning a publication issued in successive parts, at more or less regular intervals, and to be intoned indefinitely. This may be weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. Magazines, journals, conference proceedings, trade publications, yearbooks, and indexes are all serials.


Primary and Secondary Sources

Another distinction made about research materials is between primary and secondary sources.

  • Primary sources are eyewitness accounts, laboratory data, interviews, original manuscripts, or original research, published in either paper or other formats that may include microform and electronic reproduction. Examples are diaries, letters, speeches, minutes of meetings, scientific research reports, and news footage.


  • Secondary sources are works that interpret primary sources, and includes reviews, criticism, editorials, and analysis. Most journal articles are secondary sources which provide analysis, interpretation, or evaluation by the writer.


The actual transcript of a trial is PRIMARY information while an article about the trial that only provides some quotes and reports by eyewitnesses is SECONDARY information.

Refereed or Peer-Reviewed Journals

Refereed or peer-reviewed journals are journals where the quality of the articles is maintained by a review process by experts prior to publication. Several databases including ProQuest Central , PsycInfo and WilsonWeb allow users to limit their search to refereed or scholarly journals only. Use Ulrich's Periodicals Directory to confirm that the scholarly journals presented are peer-reviewed journals.

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