"Periodicals" is a general term used to refer to newspapers, magazines and journals (publications that are published "periodically".) Periodical articles are often the best source for finding the most current and concise information on a topic. A variety of different periodical articles can provide varied perspectives on a topic and can often provide references to additional information.

Magazines and Journals

The distinction between magazines and journals is not always very precise, but it is important to understand the general differences between these types of publications. Popular magazines (such as Time, Newsweek or Sports Illustrated) include those found on most newsstands, usually with flashy covers intended to entice a reader and commonly printed on glossy paper with many illustrations and photographs. Magazines are usually written by journalists for a fairly general audience so they are usually easier to read than journals, but the information they provide tends to be less detailed or authoritative. Articles in popular magazines usually report events, the author's opinion or simplified versions of the findings of others. Footnotes and bibliographies are rarely included in popular magazine articles. Browsing through popular magazines can sometimes be a useful method of finding an interesting topic for a research project. Articles in popular magazines usually provide some general overview information on current events, issues and trends.

Scholarly journals tend to be the most common sources of bibliographic research for serious researchers. These journals are usually oriented to students and professionals in a particular discipline and may be more difficult to understand for those who do not have some familiarity with the general field being discussed. Subject coverage tends to be more specialized and articles usually reflect the most recent research and important issues being discussed in a particular academic area. Scholarly journal articles usually review previous literature and report original research and almost always include extensive footnotes and bibliographies. Scholarly journal articles are often preceded by an abstract-- a brief summary of the article. Many scholarly journals are "refereed". Articles submitted for publication to a refereed journal are reviewed by an editorial board made up of scholars or authorities in the field to determine whether they are of high enough academic quality to be published.

Between popular magazines and scholarly journals are subject magazines (such as Scientific American or Smithsonian), professional journals (such as Anthropology Today or American Psychologist) and trade journals (such as Automotive News or PC Week). These types of publications sometimes look similar to popular magazines but they typically report on developments in a particular subject area, profession, trade or industry and are oriented to those who are either in the field or who have a particular interest in the subject matter. They differ from scholarly journals in that their articles do not usually include original research and, although they are often written by subject experts, the writing tends to be less complex and technical.

It is important to understand the use of each type of periodical in the research process. Each type of literature has a function and value in research. Popular articles often make a good point of entry for research. They can provide a basic introduction to a topic, an overview that may suggest possible approaches to the subject, divergent points of view, and perhaps some color. The college-level researcher will go on to collect scholarly articles that offer more focused, in-depth, original, research-based information. Subject magazines or professional journals may serve both sets of functions and are particularly useful for research in scientific and technical areas in which the scholarly materials may be too specialized for undergraduates. They offer the authority of experts without the complexity of original research accounts. For a more detailed description of how to distinguish between popular magazines and academic journals, click here.

Finding Periodical Articles by Subject: Periodical Databases

To find articles on a specific topic in different periodicals, various types of periodical databases are used. Periodical databases allow users to search for articles in a particular set of periodicals. They are available online and usually include at least an abstract (summary) of the article and they often include the full text of articles. Online databases commonly index articles back about 10-20 years, with some going back to the mid-1980's. A few historical perioidcal databases go back to the nineteenth century. (The best example of a historical newspaper database is the New York Times Article Archive, which goes back to 1851.) Articles from one particular newspaper or magazine or from several thousand periodicals may be included in a single database. Some periodical databases include magazines and journals on all types of subjects, while others include only publications in a particular subject area.

Many periodical databases are accessible through the Internet, but they are usually premium services that charge for access. Many schools and libraries, however, have made arrangements with database publishers to allow their students or library users to have online access to subscription-based periodical databases through some type of password or other controlled-access system. The information in these databases are not accessible through general Web search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

General Periodical Databases

General periodical databases provide access to articles in a wide range of subject areas in magazines and journals. The InfoTrac OneFile database is currently the most popular general periodical database available through Skyline College Library.

The InfoTrac OneFile database and many other databases are available through the "Find Articles" page on the Skyline Library website. A library card from any San Mateo County community college or public library is required to access these databases from off campus.

An abstract is a brief summary of an article. Abstracts are included for most articles in most periodical databases. Each abstract is generally from a couple of sentences to a few paragraphs in length. The InfoTrac OneFile database is a general periodical database which includes abstracts for most articles and full-text for over half of the articles.

More and more periodicals databases now include the full text of the articles of many of the publications that they index. Full text means the complete text of the articles are included. Up until recently, full text articles usually did not include any pictures or other graphics. Periodical databases on the Web are now including pictures and graphics for many of their full text articles. These graphic versions of articles are often called full image articles. Full image articles in Web periodical databases are often available in a type of file format called .pdf--which can be read with any Web browser that includes a plug-in (helper program) called Adobe Acrobat Reader. These files are exact image copies of the original articles and can be viewed and printed out just like photocopies of the original publication.

To check to see what periodicals are available in online databases through Skyline Library, you can look up any periodical title in the database titles lists on the Finding Periodicals page at: (Be sure to check for availability of full-text articles as compared to indexed or abstracted articles)

Finding Periodicals in a Library

Unlike books in a catalog, the periodicals included in indexes are not based on the holdings of a particular library. To find out which periodicals are carried by a particular library, you can use a "periodicals list". Some libraries include their periodicals in their main catalog, but many maintain a separate alphabetical list of periodical titles. These lists often indicate where each periodical is located in the library. In some libraries, including Skyline, older copies of periodicals (called "back issues) are bound (like books) and are shelved on regular book shelves and some older periodicals are available on microfilm or microfiche and must be read with special microform reader machines. At Skyline Library, recent issues of periodicals ("current periodicals") are kept in the "Current Perioidcals" reading area in the northeast corner of the library.

| Home | Syllabus | Assignments | Text | Instructor |

last revised: 10-11-04 by Eric Brenner, Skyline College, San Bruno, CA

These materials may be used for educational purposes if you inform and credit the author and cite the source as: LSCI 106 Online Research. All commercial rights are reserved. To contact the author, send comments or suggestions to: Eric Brenner at