Los Angeles Valley College

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What Are Periodicals?

  • Periodicals are publications that are regularly published such as journals, newspapers, or magazines.
  • They are issued daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually.

When you don't have a citation to a specific article, but want to find articles on a subject, by a specific author or authors, or with a known article title, you need to use a periodical index such as InfoTrac or The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

Which periodical index do you use? Determine what kind of periodicals you want. Do you want:

  • scholarly journals? (Concerned with academic study, especially research)
  • newspapers and substantive news sources? (having substance, firm)
  • popular magazines? (reflecting the general public, liked, widely accepted)
  • sensational? ( designed to arouse a quick and intense, superficial emotional response; capturing attention or interest)
    Or a mix?

Knowing this and recognizing that there may be some overlap, the general criteria are as follows:


  • generally have a sober, serious look and often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures
  • always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies
  • articles are written by someone who has done research in the field, or a scholar
  • language is in that of the discipline covered; assumes some scholarly knowledge or background on the part of the reader
  • main purpose is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world
  • many, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization

Examples of Scholarly journals:
American Economic Review
American Sociological Review
JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
Journal of Marriage and the Family
Modern Language Journal
Yale Review


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Substantive News or General Interest

  • may be quite attractive in appearance; some may be in newspaper format; articles are often heavily illustrated, generally with photographs
  • sometimes cite sources, though more often do not
  • may be written by a member of the editorial staff, a scholar or a free lance writer
  • language geared to any educated audience; no specialty assumed, only interest and a certain level of intelligence
  • generally published by commercial enterprises or individuals, although some emanate from specific professional organizations
  • main purpose is to provide information, in a general manner, to a broad audience of concerned citizens

Examples of Substantive News or General Interest periodicals:
National Geographic
Scientific American
Vital Speeches of the Day


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  • come in many formats, often slick and attractive in appearance; lots of graphics (photographs, drawings, etc.)
  • rarely, if ever, are sources cited; information is often second or third hand and the original source is sometimes obscure
  • usually articles are very short, written in simple language and are designed to meet a minimal education level; generally little depth to the content of these articles
  • main purpose is to entertain the reader, to sell products (their own or their advertisers), and/or to promote a viewpoint

Examples of Popular periodicals:
People Weekly
Readers Digest
Sports Illustrated


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  • often uses a newspaper format
  • language is elementary and occasionally inflammatory or sensational; assumes a certain gullibility in their audience
  • main purpose seems to be to arouse curiosity and to cater to popular superstitions; often does so with flashy headlines designed to astonish or shock (e.g. Woman Abducted by Aliens and Impregnated)

Examples of Sensational periodicals:
National Examiner
Weekly World News


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  • written for the general reader
  • any subject of interest, newsworthy events, and local coverage is included
  • written by professional journalists; some articles contributed by specialists
  • provides up-to-date coverage (one-half day to a week)
  • articles are 50-2,000 words
  • content is dependent upon the type of article: analysis, statistics, graphics, photographs, editorial opinion; no bibliography or list of sources
  • tends to be mainstream/neutral

    Examples of Newspapers:
    Los Angeles Times
    New York Times
    Wall Street Journal
    La Opinion

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How to Find Periodical Articles
If you're not sure which kind of periodical you want or which periodical index to use, ask a reference librarian.
If you want articles from scholarly or research journals, use the online Expanded Academic ASAP. If you want newspaper articles, use the online National Newspaper Index or the print Los Angeles Times and New York Times Index. If you want popular magazines, use the online General Reference Center Index. Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature is an index in a paper format and covers general interest and popular magazines from 1939 to the present. All of the print indices are found in the index section. The full text of some periodical articles is available on InfoTrac.

To summarize

  • locate relevent online or print periodical indexes.
  • use key words to search.
  • utilize the bibliographies found in related articles and books.

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adopted from Michael Engle's Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Other Periodicals http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/research/skill20.html May 4, 2000