12.11 Grey Areas

There are always grey areas with respect to pinning down what is a popular, scholarly or trade periodical. Titles like Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, Parabola, and Science contain sophisticated writing, footnoted articles, and authors that hold advanced degrees. At the same time, they display advertisements; have regular columns, photos, and brief articles; and are published by large media conglomerates.

If you are concerned about whether the article you want to use falls within a particular category, look for a bibliography, or lack of one, at the end of the article. Also, look for a brief biography of the author, either at the beginning of the article, or at the end of the publication, for information about the author’s education and/or institutional affiliation. Most scholarly publications will identify the department and college, university or research lab where the author works.

You can also look at the masthead of the publication for the name of the editor or the members of the editorial board to see if you recognize the “perspective” of those responsible for publishing the material. You might also check the reference tool Ulrich’s Periodical Directory which indicates the type of magazine.  Academic Search Premiere provides icons next to each entry that indicates which type of periodical it is (and you can filter for information from specific types of publications.)

If you still have questions about what type of publication you have selected, talk with a reference librarian or your instructor.

Understanding the type of periodical in which information appeared can help you determine whether the material is appropriate for your message and your audience.  Trade periodicals typically represent a point of view which you will need to decode; scholarly periodicals publish articles that will require some “translation” for a general audience; popular periodicals reflect the “hot” topics of the day but are usually superficial in their treatment of the subject.  All of these categorizations help you become an astute information evaluator.


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Information Strategies for Communicators Copyright © 2015 by Kathleen A. Hansen and Nora Paul is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.