Skip to Main Content


Browse library resources for the study of Psychology (go/psycguide/)

Subject Specialist

Profile Photo
Carrie M. Macfarlane
My office is Davis Family Library 209, but the quickest way to reach me is by email or appointment.

Scholarly or Popular

It is important to be able to distinguish between journal articles and magazine articles. Journal articles are typically referred to as scholarly, while magazine articles are typically referred to as popular. Here are some clues to look for when you're trying to figure out if your article was published in a scholarly journal or a popular magazine.

Criteria Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine
Example Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Time magazine
Content In-depth, primary account of original findings written by the researcher(s); very specific information, with the goal of scholarly communication. Secondary discussion of someone else's research; may include personal narrative or opiniongeneral information, purpose is to entertain or inform.
Author Author's credentials are provided; usually a scholar or specialist with subject expertise. Author is frequently a journalist paid to write articles, may or may not have subject expertise.
Audience Scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist.
Language Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area. Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers.
Graphics Graphs, charts, and tables; very few advertisements and photographs. Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs.
Layout and Organization Structured; includes the article abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography. Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion.
Accountability Articles are evaluated by peer-reviewers who are experts in the field; edited for content, format, and style. While the peer-review process is far from perfect,* it often is an indicator at least some measure of objectivity. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff, not experts in the field; edited for format and style.
References Required. Quotes and facts are verifiable. Rare. Little, if any, information about source materials is given.
Paging Page numbers are consecutive throughout the volume. Each issue begins with page 1.
Other Examples Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, History of Education Quarterly, Almost anything with Journal in the title. Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Ladies Home Journal, Cooking Light, Discover

Acknowledgement: This is adapted from one created by North Carolina State University Libraries. They, in turn, modified a document originally created by librarians at the University of Michigan Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

*This 2019 Washington Post opinion piece provides examples of the imperfections of the peer-review process:  Why we shouldn’t take peer review as the ‘gold standard.’

How to Filter to Peer-Reviewed Articles

Most, but not all, scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. Peer-reviewed journals are a subset of scholarly journals.

In PsycINFO, selecting the "Peer reviewed" filter limits results to peer-reviewed journals. Keep in mind that some peer-reviewed journals include articles that are not peer-reviewed (for example, book reviews).

How to Choose

Primary Sources in Psychology

What is a Primary Source?

In Psychology, a primary source (sometimes called a "primary empirical article" or an "empirical article") is a research article that is written by the person who performed the original scientific investigation. This is in contrast to review articles or articles published in newspapers or magazines that describe research that was performed by someone else. 

How to Recognize a Primary Source?

To determine whether an article is a primary source, first, remember that the article must be written by the people who did the original scientific investigation. Look for language that indicates the authors performed the actions they are describing, for example, "We surveyed a sample of university students..." or "We observed thirty healthy adults..." Then, look at the structure of the article. Primary sources are usually divided into sections such as: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion or Conclusions. Don't be thrown off when you see references to investigations done by other researchers; most primary sources begin with a review of relevant work.

How to Read a Scientific Paper? (Including Primary Sources)