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Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed or Trade Journals: What's the Difference?

by Sara Hull on 2024-06-17T14:53:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

Screenshot of OneSearch limit options showing the location of the Scholarly/Peer-reviewed Journals Only option
Different assignments--or stages of assignments--call for different types of sources. For example, you may need to begin an assignment by looking for background information to get a sense of the breadth of the topic, the issues within it, and the keywords experts use to describe it. Later on, you may need to use those keywords to find sources written by those experts, whether these be scholarly, peer-reviewed, or trade sources. For help understanding these distinctions, read on!

Scholarly versus Peer Review

In brief, "scholarly" means that the work is written by an expert for an audience of other experts, researchers, or scholars. "Peer review" is a process that takes this several steps farther. 

In peer review, an author submits an article to the journal and the journal's publisher sends that article out to some experts in the field. It's a double-blind process; the author doesn't know who the reviewers are, and the reviewers don't know who the author is. The peer reviewers look for any errors or biases or sources of academic dishonesty. They send it back with either a rejection or recommendations for revision.

There's also editorial review, which is very similar, except that the journal has a board of editors (who are experts in the field, but not anonymous). Most nursing journals use editorial review.

"Refereed" is another term that describe journals that have one of these in-depth systems of review.


How will I know?

When you are looking at a journal, there are some ways to tell if it's scholarly/refereed/peer reviewed. 

1. Do a Web search for the journal's title and find its website. Look there for information about the submission and review process. This will usually either state whether they use peer reviewers or list the members of their editorial board. 

2. Look at the article itself. There are some features that scholarly/refereed/peer-reviewed articles have in common:

  • they will always have in-text citations and a bibliography
  • they will always be written by an expert in the field, and you can tell because they list the author's job title and institution
  • they are written for experts, so the language will be formal, technical, and deal with advanced concepts
  • there will be no ads or illustrations that are there just to grab your attention
  • often, the author(s) will thank the reviewers somewhere in the body of the article, usually at the end.

Just remember that not every item of content in a scholarly journal is peer/editorial board reviewed--letters to the editor, book reviews, and introductions to special issues are generally not reviewed. But the articles--research reports, case studies, thought pieces, etc.--will be reviewed. 


What about books and other media?

Books can also be peer reviewed/editorial board reviewed. Generally that only happens for books that come out of university presses. 

Reference books and textbooks are not peer or editorial board reviewed, so as counter-intuitive as it is, they're not scholarly.

Websites, videos, and other formats are not peer reviewed. 


Trade journals

Some research areas do not produce a lot of scholarly journals. These include fields like fire fighting, sound equipment sales, hotel management, etc., which produce trade journals or professional journals, instead. Trade and professional journals are:

  • written by experts who are usually not people with Ph.D.s working in academia; instead, they are experts who are employed in the trade or profession,
  • written for experts but, again, the readers are not necessarily scholars; they are individuals working in that trade or profession, and
  • not peer reviewed or editorially reviewed; instead, they are more like magazines in that they have editors.

You have a few options for locating articles from these types of sources:

  1. Visit the website of a professional association affiliated with your field of study, and see what publications they feature. For example, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) features Fire Fighter Quarterly Magazine.

    If you are able to read articles via their website, great. 
    If not, you might search E-Journals A-Z on the library homepage to see if our library subscribes to that publication.
  2. Search a library database in your field of study. To do this, click Subject Guides on the library homepage, select the guide affiliated with your field of study, and view databases listed on the landing page of that guide. Then:
  • Select a database, and click the Advanced Search option (usually next to or below the basic search box).
  • Scroll through the advanced search features until you find Source Type, Publication Type, or something similar.
  • Then, scroll through the options until you see Trade Journal. Click that, enter you keywords in the search boxes above, and click Search.
  • If the database you choose, does not offer Trade Journals as an option, you might select a different database from the subject guide list and try again.

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