Pennsylvania College of Technology 
Williamsport, PA
ENL 111 (Vavra) 
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Journals vs. Magazines

     In some of your courses, you may be required to write research papers using journals, but no magazines. What is the difference? The essential difference is the qualifications of the people who write and edit them. As a newcomer to your field, however, you may have trouble distinguishing which is which, or who is who. The fact that the title may have the word "journal" in it is not a sufficient indicator. Ladies Home Journal is a magazine, not a journal. As you progress in your field, your instructors should help you distinguish which is which, but there are some things you can look for. 

Editorial Board 

      Almost all of the material in journals is written by specialists, for specialists. JAMA, for example, is the Journal of the American Medical Association. Most of the articles in it are written by professors in universities, by researchers in the labs of various medical companies, by specialists in government health agencies, etc. These specialists usually submit their articles to the editor of  the journal, who then distributes them to several members of the journal's editorial board. The editorial board is supposed to be composed of recognized individuals in the field. They read the submission and tell the editor whether or not they think it is valid and worth publishing. The editorial board, in other words, acts as a review committee and places a stamp of approval on the articles actually published in the journal. Journals usually have a list of their editorial board somewhere on the first few pages of each issue. 
     Magazines, on the other hand, tend to be written by professional writers working for an editor who works for a company whose objective is to make money. An editor may assign a writer to do a story about the Clinton impeachment one week, and a story on the bombing of Iraq the next. The writer researches and writes the story, but he is usually not an expert in the fields he writes about. Because they are published to make money, magazines will try to attract as large an audience as they can. As a result, technical terms and documentation (essential for journals) are avoided. 


       In many cases, journals can be easily recognized by their limited or total lack of advertising. In many fields, journals are financed by the dues of members of the professional organization that published the journal. In return for their dues, the members expect detailed, reliable information on important developments. When you do find ads in a journal, they advertise only those things that would be of interest to members of the specific discourse community. English Journal, for example, is the primary journal for high school English teachers. It includes ad for textbooks and other instructional materials that English teachers might want, but it does not have ads for cars, beer, soap, etc. Magazines, on the other hand, tend to include more advertising, and that advertising tends to be aimed at a wider public. 

Not an "Either / Or" Distinction 

       My objective here has been to make you aware of the basic difference between journals and magazines. When you are writing papers in your field, your instructors may not accept magazines as sources for the simple reason that magazines are not written by experts in the field. There are, however, numerous exceptions to this general rule, so you should look to the instructors in your field for further directions.

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