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Health Studies (Public Health)

Resources for students and faculty

Articles - Are they all the same?

The quick answer is "no".  An article's 'purpose' is most often reflected in the type of periodical it's published within.

Some Definitions  A 'periodical' is any publication that is published on a regular or periodic basis.  Periodicals include journals, trade or professional publications, magazines, and newspapers. Periodicals can be grouped into the following categories:

Scholarly or Academic or Peer-Reviewed 
The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on and disseminate original research or experimentation. The language used is that of the discipline. It assumes some scholarly background on the part of the reader.  Authors are usually affiliated with research institutions such as universities or government agencies. Many scholarly journals are published by scholarly or academic association. 

Articles published in scholarly journals go through a formal peer review process and authors always cite their sources in a list of references, a bibliography, endnotes or footnotes. 

Professional or Trade 
The purpose of these periodicals is to inform members of an industry or profession through the publication of professional content that may combine fact, anecdote, opinion, or practice. Readers require some some industry or professional vocabulary. Authors may or may not have an academic affiliation, but they will have expertise in the area in which they are writing. These publications are usually colourful with advertising geared toward the profession or trade. They are published by trade or professional organizations.

Articles are not peer-reviewed though editors may invite submissions from experts. Authors rarely cite their sources (no references are cited). 

The goal of magazines is to entertain and inform. Authors are often professional writers rather than scholars and industry experts. The content may be factual but may also be biased by editorial or publishing policy. Language should be easy to understand by all readers. Magazines are colourful and have many pictures and advertisements. 

Magazines are not peer-reviewed and authors almost never cite their sources.

A Note of Caution regarding databases and labelling 
A well designed database will provide you with filters or limits to assist in securing relevant results. You will often see a filter enabling you to limit to the type of periodical or publication you want in your results. Sometimes a database will use the label 'magazine' when they're actually referring to a professional or trade publication. Sometimes an article will be labelled as scholarly when it's not.

Lesson - know the characteristics of each publication and article type so you will recognize the purpose behind the content.