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.

Purpose:to distribute highly specific knowledge to experts and students; contributors are publishing in order to establish or improve their professional reputationto 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
Frequencyannual, semi-annual, or quarterlymonthly, weekly or even daily
Medium:online and/or printonline 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 paraphrases.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
  • 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
(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 studentsthe 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 paragraphstitles 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 average 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.


11 thoughts on “Academic Journals Compared to Magazines

  1. I’ve found your site very helpful in preparing my own writing course – thanks Dennis. I’ve been doing some casual research on journal containers, and it’s made me doubt the accuracy of your claim that academic journals are more likely to be found on .edu and .org pages than on .com sites. It seems the majority of journal containers I use are .com sites, e.g. academic.oup .com;;; link.springer .com;; Am I missing something?

    • Fair enough. When I first posted this handout in 1999, I doubt any of those .com sites existed.

      I was thinking of journals like and and — pioneering online journals that used the medium of the internet (including timeliness and hyperlinks) as part of the fabric of scholarship, rather than a commercial service that lets people access PDFs that replicate the form and function of a print journal.

      Behind my phrasing is my general intent, which is to encourage students to start by using their own university’s database rather to start by doing a Google search.

  2. Can I ask for a clarification? In the “Authors” section, you mention that it’s mostly university professors. I agree, but can I say that experts in the field, who may not be professors, but who wish to promulgate useful information from original research that they have performed, could be authors of a paper in an academic journal as well?

    • Great question. Yes, scientists who work for big corporations do sometimes publish in journals. There are also independent scholars who apply for grant money to support their own research and who may want to publish their findings. This is why I hedged and said the authors were mostly university faculty. But because academic journals don’t pay their authors, it’s generally the university faculty who get a salary from their school, and whose job description includes the requirement to publish, who have the time and motivation to submit their work to peer-reviewed journals. If your job description doesn’t require you to get published in peer-reviewed academic journals, there are other, faster, and potentially money-making ways of publicizing your work.

  3. Hello, im currently enrolled in the university. I am an entering freshmen, in my english class i need to do research project. Therefore, i would like to know if all this information that you have posted has been studied, are facts or only your opinion. Also if is possible do you have where you have posted the information about the academic article by itself and not in comparison with magazines.
    thank you,
    sincerely, Geminis

    • I am a college professor, and I created this page in order to help me teach my own freshman writing courses. It’s a fact that the discipline of college writing differentiates sources this way, but we do so because in our expert, experienced opinion, this is the best way to do it. Newspaper reporters, scientists, street artists, and politicians will have different opinions about the best way to assess sources, but their opinions are not as immediately relevant to a student taking a college writing course.

      You are welcome to use Google or my site’s search engine to look for other resources, but this page is what it is.

  4. Your purpose of magazines is quite off. What would you say of the countless literary magazines? How about magazines such as The Atlantic or Economist? Do you really think they have that purpose? Sure some do, but that is mostly confined to. The university halls are not the only place for intellectual activity, though for some reason those ivory towers sometimes fill those within them with delusions of grandeur.

    • For the limited purpose of explaining to college students why their professors want students to cite academic articles instead of magazine articles in term papers, that detail serves its purpose.

      Of course it’s not the whole story. Feel free to answer your own questions here, if you like.

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