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W.I. Dykes Library


Peer-Reviewed or Scholarly Journals

What is a Scholarly Journal?

Your professor wants you to write a paper using sources from scholarly journals. What does that mean? Why does it matter? And how do you find such things? Scholarly journals are specialized publications that feature original research or analysis written by experts. Most scholarly journals are peer-reviewed or refereed -- that means every article is reviewed by a panel of experts before it is accepted for publication. Your professor wants you to use scholarly journals because they are considered the most accurate and reliable sources for university-level work. Using scholarly journals is also a good way to learn how experts conduct research and share their findings. Knowing this process helps you become a critical thinker and acquire professional expertise.

How do you find scholarly journals? Start with the Databases & Articles section of the library website. The databases listed there can be used to search thousands of journals, magazines, newspapers, and books. When choosing a database, read the description to find out if the database covers journals. Once you choose a database, look for a "scholarly journals" option on the search page. Most databases have this option. Choose the "scholarly journals" option to limit your search to show only journals.

Example of a Database Search

Suppose your professor in a criminal justice class asks you to find articles about the death penalty in scholarly journals. Using the Databases & Articles section of the library website, we might select the database Criminal Justice Periodicals Index, which covers journals and magazines in the field of criminal justice. Start by typing the phrase "death penalty" in the first search box. Then look further down the screen to find the "Scholarly journals, including peer-reviewed" option. Click on the box next to this option, return to the top of the screen, and click on the "Search" button. These steps should produce a list of relevant journal articles.


Select the scholarly journal limit option box below the search area.


Scholarly Journals vs. Popular Magazines

Scholarly journals are often confused with popular magazines like Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Both are published on a regular schedule (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) and both consist of short articles on a variety of topics. This chart shows clues that you can look for to determine whether an article comes from a scholarly journal or a popular magazine.

Key Traits Scholarly Journals Popular Magazine


Long articles with in-depth analysis of a specific topic.

Short articles with news, opinion, or an overview of a broad topic.


Usually an expert. Name and credentials always provided.

Usually a journalist. The author’s credentials usually not provided.


Articles usually have a structured format with distinct sections, i.e., abstract, review, methodology, results, conclusion, bibliography.

Usually written in continuous text, or in sections that do not follow a common standardized format.


Usually written in very technical language. Expertise in the field may be required to understand it.

Written in non-technical language that any reader can understand.


May include tables of statistics, graphs, maps, or photographs that directly support the text.

May include eye-catching photos or illustrations that draw attention, but are not necessary to support clear understanding of the text.


Articles have a bibliography, works cited list, or footnotes to document books, articles, and other sources used by the author.

Articles may mention sources in the text, but usually do not have a separate bibliography, footnotes, or works cited list.


American Behavioral Scientist, Criminology, Harvard Business Review, Journal of American History, Journal of Criminal Justice, Nature, Psychological Reports, Science

Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Newsweek, The Nation, National Geographic, The National Review, The New Yorker, Psychology Today, Time, U.S. News & World Report

Trade Journals

Trade journals are another type of publication that can be confused with scholarly journals. Athough they are called journals, trade journals are actually very similar to popular magazines. Most trade journals feature short articles with news, opinion, or analysis of topics relevant to people who work in a particular industry. Individual articles usually have the same characteristics of authorship, format, language, illustrations, and sources that were listed for popular magazines in the previous table. Examples of trade journals include Advertising Age, Corrections Today, Education Week, Purchasing Today, and Restaurant Business.


If you can’t tell if an article comes from a scholarly journal, a trade journal, or a popular magazine, please Ask a Librarian.



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W.I. Dykes Library • University of Houston-Downtown
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Last updated or reviewed on 4/2/10

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