Many students ask the above question when they need to locate a periodical article for a class assignment. Sometimes an instructor will specify that students can only use an article from a journal, not one from a popular magazine. A journal may also be referred to as a scholarly journal or a professional journal. These are different terms for the same thing.

Listed below are some clues to help distinguish between journals and magazines. Sometimes, the line between the two publication types becomes blurred-especially when they are published on the Web. And remember, just because the term "journal" is used in the title (e.g., Ladies Home Journal) doesn't mean it is a scholarly publication.

AUTHOR* Journalist or layperson. Sometimes author is not named. Expert (scholar, professor, researcher, etc.) Author nearly always named.
NOTES* Few or no references or notes Usually includes notes and/or bibliography
STYLE Journalistic; written for the average reader Uses technical or specialized language; written by experts for experts.
EDITING* Reviewed by one or more persons employed by magazine Usually reviewed by an editorial board of outside scholars ("peer-reviewed" or "jury-reviewed")
AUDIENCE For the general public For scholars or researchers in the field
ADS Many, often in color Few or none; if any, usually for books or professional materials
LOOK Glossy, many pictures in color More sedate look; mostly text
FREQUENCY Usually weekly or monthly Usually monthly or quarterly
CONTENTS Current events; general interest News and research from the field

A journal cannot be defined by one or two features, nor do all features have to be present to make it a journal. Look for a majority of the traits listed above (those with an * are the most important). If in doubt, ask your instructor or a librarian.