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PHS 475: Health Science Capstone

Distinguishing between different types of journal articles

When writing a paper or conducting academic research, you’ll come across many different types of sources, including periodical articles. Periodical articles can be comprised of news accounts, opinion, commentary, scholarly analysis, and/or reports of research findings. There are three main types of periodicals that you will encounter: scholarly/academic, trade, and popular.  The chart below will help you identify which type of periodical your article comes from.



Scholarly journals

Trade journals

Popular magazines



Professionals; scholars; students; specialists in the subject area

Practitioners in a particular trade, profession, or industry

General public without any technical expertise

General public without any technical expertise


Includes the vocabulary of a specific discipline

Specialized vocabulary of a trade or profession

Easy to read, popular language

Easy to read, journalistic language


In-depth analysis; reports of original research; discussions of new developments in a discipline

News, trends, and issues in a profession or industry; product information

Current events; feature stories, reviews, or editorials; opinion pieces; entertainment and/or sports news

Current events; feature stories, reviews, or editorials; opinion pieces; some entertainment and/or sports news


Scholars or researchers in a specific discipline (look for authors’ degree and institutional affiliation)

Staff writers; professionals in the field or industry

Staff or freelance writers (the authors aren’t always named)

Journalists (sometimes published in one news source and then picked up and republished in another source


Articles contain footnotes or endnotes; works cited or bibliographies are included

Includes some references or footnotes

Contain few, if any, references or footnotes

Contain few, if any, references or footnotes


Mostly text with some charts and graphs; few advertisements; usually printed on non-glossy paper

Contains advertisements relating to the trade; articles with photos and other visual items

Highly visual; many advertisements; usually printed on glossy paper

Plain black and white text; many advertisements; sometimes printed on glossy paper


New England Journal of Medicine; Modern Fiction Studies; American Sociological Review

Billboard; Aviation Week & Space Technology; Advertising Age

Time; Business Week; Harper’s; Rolling Stone; Newsweek; Sports Illustrated

The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Houston Star-Chronicle, The Seattle Times

Text and chart adapted from the WSU University Libraries' How to Distinguish Between Types of Periodicals and Types of Periodicals guides

What makes information peer-reviewed vs. scholarly vs. non-scholarly? Which type of source should I use?

Image of man thinking

There is a nuanced distinction between peer-review and scholarship, which typically doesn't matter when evaluating sources for possible citation in your own work.  Peer-review is a process through which editors of a journal have other experts in the field evaluate articles submitted to the journal for possible publication.  Different journals have different ways of defining an expert in the field.  Scholarly works, by contrast have an editorial process, but this process does not involve expert peer-reviewers.  Rather, one or more editors, who are themselves often highly decorated scholars in a field, evaluate submissions for possible publication.  This editorial process can be more economically driven than a peer-review process, with a greater emphasis on marketing and selling the published material, but as a general rule this distinction is trivial with regard to evaluating information for possible citation in your own work.

What is perhaps a more salient way of thinking about the peer-review / scholarship distinction is to recognize that while peer-reviewed information is typically highly authoritative, and is generally considered "good" information, the absence of a peer-review process doesn't automatically make information "bad."  More specifically, the only thing the absence of a peer-review process means is that information published in this manner is not peer-reviewed.  Nothing more.  Information that falls into this category is sometimes referred to as "non-scholarly" information -- but again, that doesn't mean this information is somehow necessarily problematic.

Where does that leave you in terms of deciding what type of information to use in producing your own work?  That is a highly individual decision that you must make.  The Which type of source should I use? tab in this box offers further guidance on answering this question, though it is important to be aware that many WSU instructors will only consider peer-reviewed sources to be acceptable in the coursework you turn in.  You can ask your instructor for his or her thoughts on the types of sources s/he will accept in student work.

Image: Martin Grater. (2017, Nov. 1). Deep Thought. Retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons License.

Image of man thinking

Your topic and research question or thesis statement will guide you on which resources are best.  Sources can be defined as primary, secondary and tertiary levels away from an event or original idea. Researchers may want to start with tertiary or secondary source for background information. Learning more about a topic will help most researchers make better use of primary sources.

While articles from scholarly journals are often the most prominent of the sources you will consider incorporating into your coursework, they are not the only sources available to you.  Which sources are most appropriate to your research is a direct consequence of they type of research question you decide to address.  In other words, while most university-level papers will require you to reference scholarly sources, not all will.  A student in an English course writing a paper analyzing Bob Dylan's lyrics, for example, may find an interview with Dylan published in Rolling Stone magazine a useful source to cite alongside other scholarly works of literary criticism.

The WSU University Libraries' What Sources Should I Use? handout, as well as the other sub-tabs under the Evaluating information section of this guide (which is indeed the section you are currently viewing) offer further guidance on understanding and identifying scholarly resources, and comparing them against different criteria to evaluate if they will be of value to your research.  How many non-scholarly works (if any) you are at liberty to cite alongside scholarly ones is often a question to ask of your professor.  Some may not want you to cite any, whereas others may be ok with some non-scholarly works cited alongside scholarly ones.

Image: Brett Woods. (2006, Jan. 6). Deep Thoughts. Retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons License.

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