What's a Scholarly Source?

Why does it matter?

Being able to distinguish between journals (scholarly sources) and magazines (non-scholarly sources) is important because:

Check with your instructor if you are not sure of the classification of a particular source.


These criteria are guidelines. Some publications won't exactly match this list. If a publication matches MOST of the criteria for a type, that is probably the correct placement.

Journals Magazines
Physical format and appearance
  • Black and white text, simple fonts
  • Few color photographs
  • Non-glossy paper
  • "Journal" often part of title (Ladies Home Journal is an obvious exception!)
  • Varied fonts, colored highlights in text
  • Lots of color photographs
  • Glossy paper
  • Titles tend to be less scholarly
  • Generally long articles
  • Letters to editor may be several pages long
  • Few ads, which are aimed at professionals in the field
  • Articles vary in length
  • Letters to editor generally short
  • Lots of colorful ads, aimed at the general public
Typical authors
  • Scholars or experts in the field
  • Authors are always identified
  • Staff or free-lance writers
  • Authors may not be identified
  • Always identify sources in some way
  • May use footnotes, parenthetical references, reference list, or bibliography
  • Often don't identify sources
  • Sources may be discussed as part of narrative structure
Review process
  • Editor will be expert in the field
  • Articles may be checked by other experts before publication ("peer review")
  • Editor has publication background
  • Articles only reviewed in-house
  • Aimed at scholars in the field
  • Aimed at general public or hobbyists


Journals Magazines
  • Political Behavior
  • Journal of Sport Management
  • American Historical Review
  • Plant Physiology
  • Time, U.S. News & World Report
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Vogue, Cosmopolitan
  • Better Homes & Gardens

Finding Scholarly Sources

  • Look for publications from a professional organization.
  • Use databases such as JSTOR that contain only scholarly sources.
  • Use databases such as Academic Search Complete or other EBSCO databases that allow you to specify "peer-reviewed journals".
  • See whether Ulrich's Periodicals Directory indicates that it is a Refereed Journal.
  • Evaluate print journals and journals in other databases using the criteria above.