Identify Scholarly Journals

Distinguishing among Scholarly, Popular, and Trade Journals

Your professor may ask you to use scholarly, peer reviewed, or refereed journals in your research paper, and you are not certain about how to find them.

Below are some characteristics for identifying the three types of periodical literature: scholarly/professional, popular, and trade. Ask a librarian for help if you are unsure how to categorize a particular title. Please note that not all of the criteria will apply to periodicals in each category.

For information on how to find articles, go to the guide on how to Find Articles


Professional Journals

Popular Magazines

Trade Publications

Article Type

In-depth research articles, often peer-reviewed; usually includes an abstract; may be brief news of developments in the field or recent research, academic book reviews

Brief, nontechnical, current events, news; quick facts; short interviews, brief book reviews, ads

Product reviews; industry statistics; new publications; patents


To provide information about, report, or present original research or experiments

To provide general information to, entertain, or persuade the general public

To provide news or information to practitioners in an industry or trade


Clearly defined; experts with significant knowledge in the subject area, scholars, and researchers

Not always identified; staff writers

Not always identified; staff writers, practitioners in the trade


Professors, researchers, and students, members of association; other professionals in the field


Intended for those with an interest in a specific industry or trade


Typically a university or professional association

Typically commercial

Typically commercial

Writing Style

Formal or semiformal; scholarly language; may use technical or specialized language

Informal; language is easy to understand

Informal; may use technical or specialized language


Footnotes or endnotes; bibliography; suggested resources for more information


Suggested resources for more information, sometimes a brief bibliography


May include tables, graphs, charts, or equations to support the research

Often includes glossy photographs, ads, images

May include black & white or color images, graphs, or charts


Sloan Management Review, Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, Journal of Computer Information Systems, Journal of American History

Time, Newsweek, Business Week, Psychology Today, PC World, Washington Post

Association Management, People Management, Federal Computer Week, Food Technology, Workforce






Locating a Scholarly or Professional Journal

Once you understand what a scholarly or professional journal is, where should you search for it? You can find some full text scholarly journals on the public access Web. However, since using a Web search engine can produce many thousands of results that need to be evaluated or may only be available to you for a fee, it is better first to try a search in the library databases. Some databases offer two main options for limiting your search to scholarly journals:

  • You can limit your search on the basic search screen
  • You can select a link or tab to scholarly articles after you conduct your basic search (not all the databases allow this option)

This example of a search in Academic Search Premier is typical of searches in databases that offer both options.

Example: A basic search, using the search statement: stem cell and research and ethics, limited to scholarly (peer-reviewed) journals:

Limiting your search to scholarly journals

retrieves a list of results limited to scholarly journals:

Search results limited to scholarly journals

In databases that allow the second option, you may want to wait to limit your search to scholarly journals until you retrieve the result list, which will be divided into the different types of resources. The same search as above yields the following results when you do not limit your search in the beginning:

Academic Journals vs. Magazines

While you retrieve more results with this search (246 here vs. 136 in the first search), this search gives you the option of clicking on each of the links: scholarly journals or magazines to decide which of the different types of materials will be appropriate for your research. You may want some popular magazine articles to provide the most up-to-date information on your topic.


Using Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory to Identify Scholarly Journals

What if you have evaluated an article as scholarly, but you want to be absolutely certain before you use it. In that case you can check Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory, a UMGC subscription database, to find out whether the journal is scholarly.

  • To access Ulrich's from the Library home page, click Databases by Title (A-Z). In the alphabetical list of databases, click on U and then on Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory.
  • If prompted, log in with your UMGC credentials. 

The initial search screen will look like this:

Ulrichsweb search screen

After you click on submit, you will retrieve a screen like the following:

Indication that journal is peer-reviewed

The icon of the referee's shirt indicates that the journal is peer-reviewed. If the icon is not present, the journal is not peer-reviewed.

Discrepancies between database descriptions and Ulrich's results may vary.  Please Ask a Librarian if you have any questions.