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Psychology: What are Journal Articles?

A research guide to psychology information

Journal Article Characteristics

Journal articles are the best source of information you will find. Journal articles are very different from other kinds of articles. Many library databases will allow you to search for journal articles. However, you need to be able to identify journal articles on sight, that is, by looking at them. Why? Because databases often index every item in a journal, including letters to the editor, editorials, news briefs, etc. As far as the database is concerned, these items qualify as journal articles because they are published within a journal issue.

Some characteristics to look for that can identify a journal article:

  • Abstracts - journal articles frequently contain an abstract, or descriptive summary of the article, before the main body of the article.
  • Authors - journal articles are authored by researchers and experts. They frequently (but not always, depending on the discipline) have a Ph.D. in their area of research. See if you can determine qualifications of the author. Often, this qualification is present on the first page of the article. It could include Dr. before their name(s) or Ph.D. after. Look also for universities or research institutions as affiliations in the database record or also on the first page. Often university affiliation is on the bottom corner of the first page of the article.
    • Frequently, depending on the discipline, articles in the social sciences are authored by multiple authors.
  • Journal Article Titles - Often, journal article titles (not the journal name) are long and descriptive. The longer the article title, the more likely it is to be a journal article.
  • Article Sections - journal articles have some very clearly labelled sections: Introduction, Methodology, Literature Review, Results, Discussion, References
  • Length - the longer the article, the more likely it is to be a journal article. You will find five page journal articles, but they are rare. Most research articles average 10-15 pages in length.
  • Sources - journal articles ALWAYS contain a bibliography or references list. ALWAYS.
  • Frequency - usually published monthly or quarterly.
  • Contents - research in the profession or field
  • Advertising - few or none. Advertising is generally rare for journal articles.
  • Tables, Charts, Graphs - frequently, journal articles contain tables, charts and graphs to summarize their research.  The presence of photographs is not necessarily indicative of joural articles, but tables, charts and graphs definitely are.
  • Where? - the only place you will find journal articles are academic libraries. You won't even find them at your local public library.
  • Cost - journals are expensive. Journal subscriptions can cost as much as $10,000 per year.

    In terms of determining if it is a journal article or not, look for a bibliography at the end of the article.

    Note: None of this makes a determination whether a given article is considered a research article.

      Comparison of Periodical Articles

      There is a world of difference between articles in newspapers, magazines, trade publications and journals. This chart illustrates the differences.

      Newspapers Magazines Trade Publications Journals
      Where can you find them? Everywhere, including Oklahoma State University Libraries
      Everywhere, including Oklahoma State University Libraries Usually bookstores and Oklahoma State University Libraries Oklahoma State University Libraries
      Authors Journalists - in most cases, they attend college and earn a degree in journalism It depends - sometimes they are journalists, freelance writers, or just a member of the magazine's staff Practitioners or specialists in the field or industry Experts - usually authors have earned a Ph.D. or M.D. or other graduate degree
      Audience General public, everyone
      General public, everyone Practitioners in the field or industry
      Other experts in the field or with a similar educational background
      Article Title Short, but with a little description to catch attention
      Short and catchy
      Descriptive Long and descriptive, often with the subject in detail
      Publication Name New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Sacramento Bee, Chicago Tribune - usually start with a city or town name
      Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Glamour, Vogue - odds are, you have seen the publication name before
      Progressive Grocer, Aviation Week and Space Technology - usually feature the industy in the name
      Frequently have the word Journal in the publication name, but not always
      Length of Articles Short and not in depth, frequently only a few paragraphs
      Short and not in depth, frequently 1-2 pages
      Longer and occasionally in depth, varies widely
      Long and in depth, averaging 10-15 pages.
      Graphics Photographs (frequently in black and white), occasional charts
      Color photographs to support the topic of the article, occasional tables and charts
      Color photographs to support the topic of the article, occasional tables and charts Graphs, charts, tables, illustrations and photographs (where applicable) that summarize research
      Sources/Bibliography Rare. If they consult anyone, they generally mention it in passing in the text
      Occasionally sources are cited, but this is the exception
      Sources frequently mentioned in the text, but seldom cited
      Sources always cited in footnotes or references list
      Language Avoid technical or formal jargon Avooid technical or formal jargon Uses terminology or jargon in the industry or field Uses terminology, jargon and the language of the discipline
      Advertising Yes, all over the place
      Yes, all over the place
      Yes, but only advertising relevant to the field
      Typically none, or very little
      Cost Generally less than $1 per issue Generally less than $5 per issue Generally less than $5 per issue Some journals can cost as much as $10,000 per year