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What is a Periodical?

A periodical is any item that gets published routinely by a set period of time. It is published "period"-ically. Get it??


  • Works that got published ONCE A DAY were newspapers.
  • Works that got published ONCE A  WEEK or ONCE A MONTH were magazines.
  • Works that got published ONCE PER QUARTER (four times a year--once in the winter, once in the spring, once in the summer, once in the fall) were scholarly journals.

Those cycles have changed a bit now that we live in the Internet Age and information can be shared/published as soon as someone inputs it onto a web page. So newspaper items may be published via online websites (such as the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times) at any time throughout the day; same with items published on magazine web sites (such as or

Even so, we continue to consider all the above-mentioned items--newspapers, magazines, and journals--to qualify under a large conceptual umbrella as periodicals.

Periodicals include:

  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Scholarly journals

Popular vs. Scholarly

As information passes through the Information Cycle, it gets packaged and distributed through different source types. Each of these sources can be useful in research, depending on your personal needs. 

It can help in differentiating among the various types of sources to consider the audience that each one is intended for. Doing so helps you know if the source is considered to be popular or scholarly.

Informal communication is first to be encountered on the Information Cycle. This information is shared by individuals, including family members, friends, colleages, and co-workers, but the information is not necessarily fact-checked or confirmed for validity. Can include...

  • word-of-mouth (conversations, telephone calls, emails, text messages)
  • posts on social networks (such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc.)
  • posts on blogs, chat rooms, and discussion boards

News articles are published for reading by the general public, so they're considered to be a popular resource. They can be published in smaller communities to provide local coverage, such as the Pasadena Star News, or they can be published in larger cities to provide national coverage, such as the Los Angeles Times.

  • Newspapers produced in print format are typically published by a period of once a day.
  • They include advertisements, and sometimes illustrative photos.
  • Their articles are written by trained paid journalists, and they are fact-checked according to standards of journalism.
  • The articles are usually concise in length -- one or two pages, maximum.
  • The articles cover a full range of topics, from politics to entertainment to business to sports to opinion pieces (called "editorials").

Magazines are also published for reading by the general public, so they, too, are considered popular sources. You can buy them at grocery stores & newsstands, and find them in doctors' offices and libraries. Here are some you may already know: Vogue, Sports Illustrated, People. 

  • Print magazines are typically published by a period of every week or month.
  • Like newspapers, they include advertisements. They often include colorful graphics, photos, and illustrations.
  • Their articles are written by trained paid journalists, and they are fact-checked according to standards of journalism.
  • The articles will be a bit longer than in newspapers, but still not too long in length (1-4 pages).
  • The articles will often be grouped around a centralized topic or theme (i.e. Sports Illustrated, Women's Health, Entertainment Weekly, Psychology Today).

Scholarly journals are published for a specialized reading audience of college students, professors, and top researchers. Since they are written by and intended for scholars, they are considered scholarly sources.

  • They are published only a few times a year—usually once per season (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring) or twice per year—and include both volume and issue numbers.
  • They do not include colorful advertisements or graphic images. They only include whatever illustrations or charts the author needs to support her argument or report her findings.
  • Their articles are written by research specialists in the specific field that the journal focuses upon (i.e. Journal of Advertising, Journal of Educational Sociology, Journal of Musicology); there are often multiple authors listed for a single article.
  • The articles describe the researcher's methodology in length and include multiple citations in their reference lists, so these articles are often quite long (5-40 pages).
  • An article will be published only after the researcher's peers--other top experts in the field--have reviewed and approved it for publication, hence these journals are called "peer-reviewed."

Books take the longest time to be produced and appear last on the Information Cycle, undergoing a detailed process of writing, editing, and publishing. Books may be written for a popular audience or a scholarly audience, and are often highly valuable as research tools, compiling the most information in one useful location.

  • They are published one time only, and therefore are *not* periodicals.
  • An anthology collects in one volume a series of essays written on a single topic, providing a variety of perspectives or data about that topic. 
  • Scholarly books--such as those found at college libraries--are written at very high standards of quality, with authors taking the most time (often 1 or more years) to gather extensive data, interview competing perspectives, and more thoroughly reflect on their positions.


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