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Choose the Right Tool

This LibGuide will help you select the best types sources of information for your research. Whether it is books, magazine or journal articles, websites, government publications, or other sources, each has reasons to use them.

What is a Periodical

According to the University of North Carolina Libraries, a periodical is defined as "a magazine, journal, newsletter, or newspaper produced on a regular basis."  A regular basiscould mean the periodical is issued daily (like most newspapers), weekly or monthly (like most magazines) or even every two or three months (some journals).  This means a periodical could be a daily newspaper like the Seattle Times or the Washington Post; a magazine that is issued weekly like Time, the New Yorker, or Sports Illustrated; a monthly magazine such as National Geographic or Popular Photography, or scholarly journals such as the American Journal of Archaeology (every three months) or Sociology of Health and Illness (seven times a year).   

Using Periodicals in Research

(The following is taken from the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University)

Newspapers can be useful to you for the following reasons:

  • They provide very current information about events, people, places at the time they're published
  • They allow you to track the development of a story as it unfolds
  • They can be a good source of editorials, which can assist you in thinking about different sides of an issue
  • They usually have a particular geographic focus

Magazine articles can be useful to you for the following reasons:

  • They usually provide very current information on a topic at the time they're published
  • They're written for the general reader
  • They can provide a general overview of a topic
  • They often have photos, charts, maps, other graphics to illustrate concepts covered

Journal articles are used when you are expected to use articles from scholarly journals (sometimes referred to as peer-reviewed or refereed journals) as sources for research papers. Here are some characteristics of scholarly journal articles that make them highly useful as sources for academic papers:

  • They're written by and for specialists in a particular field
  • Articles must go through a peer review process before they're accepted for publication
  • This is where original research, or new knowledge, is published for the first time
  • These articles tend to have a narrower focus and more analysis of the topic than those in other types of publications
  • There are usually cited references or footnotes at the end of research articles

A common way to find journal articles on your topic is to search article indexes.  These can be printed indexes or online databases.  Some provide the full text of articles; some provide just citations and abstracts. 


What's in a Name?

For periodicals, the title of them can sometimes be confusing.  For example, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, School Psychology Review , and the Pacific Historical Review are all scholarly journals.  However, Ladies Home Journal and Library Journal are actually magazines, and the Wall Street Journal is a newspaper.  So, just because a periodical has the word "journal" in the title doesn't mean it is actually a scholarly journal, and there are a lot of periodicals without the word "journal" in the title that are actually scholarly journals.  How can you tell if it is a scholarly journal, a magazine, or a newspaper? The "What Is A Periodical" column to your left points out some differences.