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Scholarly Journal Articles: Structure and Function

Scholarly journals vs trade journals vs popular magazines

Publications exist along a broad continuum, with popular magazines being the least scholarly, and scholarly journals being the most scholarly. Occupying a position somewhere in between are trade journals, which exhibit characteristics of both.

Of course, the demarcation between the divisions are not always clear cut, with some popular magazines containing lengthy articles aimed at a highly-educated public, and some scholarly journals featuring primarily short, easy-to-read articles.

Trait Scholarly Journal Trade Journal Popular Magazine
Audience Scholars, researchers, clinicians, students. Professionals working in a particular industry or trade. General public.
Author(s) Specialists in the field, usually scholars with advanced degrees. Often multiple authors. Institutional affiliations and contact information provided. Industry practitioners and professional writers. Author(s) may or may not be identified. Journalists, free-lance writers, editors. Author(s) may be identified as "Editorial Staff".
Appearance Plain cover. Dense text. Limited use of color. Limited number of advertisements. Table of contents often printed on front and/or back covers. Glossy or newspaper-like. Frequently has advertisements that are aimed at members of that industry. Glossy cover and paper. Lavish use of color and graphics. Abundant advertisements.
Coverage Original research and scholarship. Expert opinion. Industry trends, products, news, and statistics. Popular topics and current events.
Purpose Scientific communication with members of that discipline, especially to share results of original research and best practices. Keep practitioners in the industry abreast of news, products, and trends. Entertainment. General knowledge.
Content Lengthy articles, written in technical language. Usually peer-reviewed. Articles usually include abstract. May include detailed data, charts, and graphs. Short to medium-length articles, often using jargon specific to the industry. May contain occasional peer-reviewed article. Written in relatively simple language, appropriate for the average reader.
Objectivity Neutral, unless an opinion piece (editorial, letter-to-the-editor, commentary). Often published by professional organizations, e.g., American Medical Association. May reflect the industry's point of view, particularly on regulatory and legislative issues. Often published by trade associations or by for-profit publishing companies. May reflect the editorial bias of the magazine. Usually published by commercial entities.
Cost Range from less than USD $100/year to over $10,000/year. Inexpensive or free to members of association or industry. Inexpensive.
Availability Generally only by subscription. US government publications may be free online. By subscription or distributed free to members of association or industry. By subscription or for purchase at retail stores and newsstands.
Cited references Always included. Review articles may have hundreds of references. Occasionally included. Rarely included. Vague references embedded within the text may be difficult to track down.
Examples Journal of Applied Physiology, Vox Sanguinis, The Lancet, Clinical Microbiology Reviews. Dentristy Today, Medical Laboratory Observer, Advance for Respiratory Care Practitioners. Health, Psychology Today, Newsweek, New Yorker, People Magazine, Runner's World.

Adapted from: Periodicals: Scholarly, Popular or Trade? by Janice S. Lewis, Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858. Accessed 01/29/07  Used with permission