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Course Guide for ENGR 361: Journals

What is a journal?

An academic or scholarly journal is a periodical publication in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Academic journals serve as permanent and transparent forums for the presentation, scrutiny, and discussion of research. They are usually peer reviewed or refereed. Content typically takes the form of articles presenting original research, review articles and book reviews. The purpose of an academic journal . . . is to give researchers a venue to "impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand design of improving natural knowledge, and perfecting all Philosophical Arts, and Sciences."


Peer-Review Process

Characteristics of scholarly, popular and trade journal articles

How do you recognize scholarly - also referred to as peer-reviewed - articles in engineering and science?

  • TITLE : clear, precise and often lengthy
  • AUTHORS (usually more than one): experts with their affiliations listed
  • ABSTRACT: often long and detailed
  • INTRODUCTION of the topic, statement of the problem, background information and purpose of the study
  • LITERATURE REVIEW: review of previous studies on the topic and related studies
  • METHODS and TECHNIQUES used so that other researchers can repeat the study 
  • RESULTS section includes new observations, data and findings  
  • DISCUSSION/CONCLUSION section on what the findings mean and their implications and indications for future research
  • REFERENCES (also called citations): a list of all the works used or referred to in the paper.  Lack of references may be a clue that it may not be a scholarly paper
  • LENGTH of the article is another criterion 
  • FUNDING: indication if an external body funded research

Scholarly articles are usually published in scholarly journals.  A large proportion of the scholarly journals in Engineering are published by the professional associations (IEEE,  ASCE, ACM, AIChem E etc.) and of course major commercial publishers (Elsevier, Wiley, Springer etc.). Not all the sections in a scholarly journal are peer-reviewed: editorial articles and news items to name two sections. Peer-reviewed journals can be identified by their editorial statements or instructions to authors (usually in first few pages of the journal or at the end) or on the home page of the journal.

Scholarly articles go through a peer-review process (see box below)

Some databases (e.g. Academic Search Complete and OneSearch) allow you to filter/limit articles by peer-reviewed; many do not (e.g. Compendex). So, you have to use your critical thinking skills to determine if an article is peer-reviewed.


Popular magazines, such as Time and Newsweek, are intended for a general audience.  They are often glossy, have lots of pictures and are written by journalists or staff writers who work for the magazine who may not have any expert knowledge in that subject area. The articles often "sensationalize" an issue.  In some cases, they may not be "signed." You do not need to have any special knowledge to understand the articles. Articles in popular magazines may not cite their sources of information or if they do they cite them briefly (making it hard for us to find the original articles!).The authors may not tell us where they got their statistics or facts.

Popular magazines are driven by their main motive - to sell copies and make money.

Popular magazines are part of our culture and often offer commentary on contemporary life.

In engineering research we generally keep away from popular magazines unless we want to examine (for instance) the societal impact of technology.

A trade or professional magazine (or journal) is published for a specific group of professionals in a particular profession or industry. Trade magazines primarily have the latest news about that industry, job vacancies, products, recently awarded contracts etc.  In many cases, the trade magazine is sent free of charge to members of that profession.  In addition to all this information, trade magazines also have feature articles on topics of current interest. Some trade magazines sometimes have the occasional peer-reviewed article.  There is a lot more value-added material in the online version of the trade magazine that is not available in its print equivalent.

Examples of trade magazines in engineering:

Engineering News Record

Electrical Times

Manufacturing Engineering

Design News

Laser Focus World 

Here is a list from TechXtra  

Watch these entertaining videos to learn more about the difference between scholarly and popular journals;

Georgia State University (2.5 mins)

University of Arkansas Libraries (1.50 mins)

Here are some tips for reading scientific articles:

How to read a scholarly Journal article Kishwaukee College Library (5.11 mins)

How to read a scientific article

Watch this short video from Cornell University