What's the Difference?

Why Should I Care about the Difference between Journals, Magazines, and Periodicals?

Its a question of quality and reliability in your research resources.  While most teachers will allow you to use any of them, some projects might require that you use academic, scholarly, or research quality articles that have been refereed or peer-reviewed.

What is a Periodical?

A periodical is "a magazine or other journal that is issued at regularly recurring intervals".  So a periodical can be either a magazine or a journal, it can be of general, academic, scholarly, or research quality.

What is a Magazine?

A magazine is "a publication that is issued periodically, usually bound in a paper cover, and typically contains essays, stories, poems, etc., by many writers, and often photographs and drawings, frequently specializing in a particular subject or area, as hobbies, news, or sports". Generally a staff writer gets a assigned a topic, and is told to write a short article.  There may or may not be an editor or fact checker making sure the article is free of errors (spelling, style, or factual).  There will be lots of color, glossy paper, pictures and advertisements.  Because they are aiming for the general public, the vocabulary is easy to understand, the price will be relatively inexpensive, and you can find them at a newsstand or checkout line.  The tricky part is that a magazine can use the term "journal" in its title, such as "Ladies Home Journal" and yet it is a magazine, not a journal...

What is a Journal?

A journal is "a periodical or magazine, especially one published for a special group, learned society, or profession".  Because these are written for academics, researchers, or scholars, the language tends to be specialized and technical.   The price is higher, and these periodicals tend to be collected by libraries, businesses, or universities for research purposes. The articles tend to be fewer, longer, and will include footnotes and/or bibliographies.  In order to be published, articles that are submitted must go through a referee, or peer-review process.

How can I tell an article has been refereed or peer-reviewed?  And why is this important to me?

Generally, if its in a journal, then its been peer-reviewed or refereed before being published.  To be refereed or peer-reviewed means that before being published, the editor or a panel of specialists review the article's contents for accuracy, checking facts and the methodology used in the article to reach its conclusions.  If the article is approved, it is published.

This is important to you because you should be evaluating all your sources for quality.  When you use a peer-reviewed article from a journal, some of the work has already been done for you; you know the source of the article has checked for accuracy and authority (see "Evaluating Sources with CRAAP" for more information on this).