How to tell the difference

There is no clear-cut definition for a scholarly journal, but below are some clues that may assist you to distinguish between them and popular magazines. A scholarly journal cannot be defined by one or two features, nor do all features have to be present to make it a professional journal. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to each characteristic listed. You are not able to tell if a publication is a scholarly journal by simply looking at the name. There are many examples when a periodical has the word journal in the title, but in fact is not a scholarly journal. The Wall Street Journal and Ladies Home Journal are examples of this.

If in doubt, ask your instructor or a librarian for help.

Characteristic Magazines Scholarly
Author Journalist, layperson, sometimes author unknown Expert, scholar, professional, professor
References Cited Usually no bibliography Includes a bibliography
Editing Reviewed by one or more persons employed by magazines Editorial board or outside scholars review articles before publishing, peer reviewers who referee the journal
Audiences General public Scholars, researchers, students of the field
Advertisements Many Few to none
Look Glossy, many pictures More unadorned looking
Frequency Usually weekly or monthly Usually monthly or quarterly
Content General interest, often reports opinion and often in a story format More specialized, research based
Language High school or lower More technical vocabulary
Indexed Found in general periodical indexes Found in specialized indexes

Grey Literature

There is another group of information that is commonly called grey literature. It is defined as any documentary material that is not commercially published. It is typically composed of technical reports, working papers, business documents, and conference proceedings. The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature (GL '99) in Washington, DC, in October 1999 defined grey literature as follows: "That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers."

Other examples of grey literature include, but are not limited to, the following types of materials: reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the art reports, market research reports, etc.), theses, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (primarily government reports and documents). The greatest challenge with grey literature is the absence of editorial control, which raises questions about authenticity and reliability.