Academic Journals Compared to Magazines

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An article in an academic journal may outwardly resemble a magazine article, but even the surface differences are numerous, important, and actually quite easy to spot. This table shows you some of the outward differences, but by far the most important difference is the fact that articles published in academic journals are peer-reviewed (checked and approved by knowledgeable scholars) while magazines articles are not.

ACADEMIC JOURNALS MAGAZINES
Purpose: to distribute highly specific knowledge to experts and students; contributors are publishing in order to establish or improve their professional reputation to make money by supplying a platform to advertisers who want to reach a particular audience; from a certain blunt perspective, the articles only exist in order to trick you into looking at the advertisements
Frequency annual, semi-annual, or quarterly monthly, weekly or even daily
Medium: online and/or print online and/or print
On Paper:
  • most have a square binding
  • spine may contain the issue information
  • inside, the paper is usually plain, not glossy
  • many footnotes and citations
  • folded with a staple along the center line
  • splashy cover; lots of large headline text
  • lots of glossy, full-page color ads
  • no footnotes
  • possibly a “suggested reading list”
Citations: each article concludes with a “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” list; article includes (in footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical notes) full publication data on all outside sources — including the page numbers for direct quotes or paraphrasings. possibly a “suggested reading” list, but no formal bibliography, and no footnotes; the article may refer to “a recent government study” or may give the title of a book, but it won’t specify the page number where a specific quote or fact can be found in those outside sources
Online:
  • site is hosted by a university (“.edu”)
  • or possibly a non-profit group (“.org”)
  • looks plain, possibly even amateurish
  • home page does not change on a regular basis
  • domain name ends in “.com”
  • flashing graphics and marginal gizmos that encourage you to spend your money
  • fancy & exciting home page
Ads: if any, they are directed towards specialists (job openings for researchers, upcoming conferences, forthcoming books) colorful and splashy ads for everything from cars to cigarettes to the latest movies
Authors: mostly university professors
(paid by their universities to write about their own original achievements in the lab, library, or classroom) or advanced graduate students aspiring to be professors
reporters
(paid by the magazine, to write about what somebody else is doing — not about their own original achievements in the lab, library, or classroom)
Audience: experts and students the general public (or some subset, such as Mac users, or nurses, or teachers, or sports fans)
Articles: titles are long and boring: “A Psychological Case Study of Climate-related Fears among College-educated Workers in the Midwest”; each takes up about ten pages of dense prose; long sentences full of semicolons; long paragraphs titles are short and snappy: “Tornadoes: Freakish Killers” or “Could You Survive a Tornado?”; sometimes only one or two sentences to a paragraph; much easier to read than most academic articles
Contents: Generally pretty dry, except to those who’ve devoted 10 years to the study of this subject. 

academic articles, book reviews, and letters to the editor are the largest sections; you may find an occasional interview with an important figure, but there are no “man on the street” interviews; no “helpful tips,” no sit-down chats with celebrities, previews of upcoming TV series, or capsule reviews of current movies

Designed to appeal to the avearge person. 

May include humor, fiction, product reviews, a sports section, movie reviews, celebrity interviews, book reviews, current events, international news, etc.

Dennis G. Jerz
28 Dec 1999 — First posted.
21 Aug 2001 — Last modified.
04 Apr 2011 — Minor edits.