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HUM 5207: Dante's Commedia (Sister Aaron Winkelman, Spring 2015): Journals

Why Journals?


Whereas books provide a broad overview or in-depth analysis of a topic, scholarly journal articles cover a very narrow aspect of the same topic. For example, if you searched on the treatment of theology in Dante's work, you might find:

a book titled:  Dante's Commedia : theology as poetry



The book discusses Dante' theological concerns in broad terms, but the journal article discusses only a specific kind of divine judgment in the Divine Commedy. The book is broad in scope; the article, very narrow.

Keeping Up-to-Date

Research is constantly updated, so researchers keep up-to-date on the most recent research in their field by reading journals specific to their interests. For instance, in the humanities, research perspectives change over time as newly discovered information or different critical interpretations emerge. 

Writing a book can take several years, whereas a journal might be published every month or even every week. Books can't keep up with the fast pace of change like a journal.

Types of Articles

When searching through an academic journal, looking for a primary research article, you may come across several types of articles:

  • Editorials
  • Literature reviews
  • Primary research articles


Editorials are opinion pieces.The author is expressing his opinion on a topic within his field of expertise. The article is usually written so that one does not need to be an expert on the topic, but they probably have some background. Editorials are usually short (2 -3 pages at most) and may have a handful of citations, or the author may not be citing anyone at all.

Literature Reviews

Literature reviews are longer than editorials and thoroughly discuss a topic. The author is citing other people's research, although they are not doing any original research on their own part.

Primary Research

Primary research articles discuss the author's research in-depth. The author will present, a literature review, how they did their research, the data that they've collected, what it all means, and all of the citations of other people's past work on the topic.

Common elements of a primary research article are:

  • Abstract - a short paragraph summing up the article
  • Introduction - an explanation as to why the research is being done
  • Literature review - past research on the topic
  • Methodology - how the data was collected
  • Data - the data collected based on the methods presented
  • Discussion - what the data means
  • Conclusion - a self critique of the work and suggestions for improvement
  • References - a bibliography of the work presented in the literature review

Not all of these will appear in every research article, and it may vary between disciplines (science, humanities, business, etc.) and the type of research being done.


Primary Research

Literature Review



Expert (affiliation, degrees, etc.)

Expert (affiliation, degrees, etc.)

Expert (affiliation, degrees, etc.)


Professionals in the discipline; other experts.

General audience in the discipline.

General audience in the discipline


Author does his/her own research; lists citations/ references.

Look for methodology, data, discussion of results, lit review, etc.

Author does a large literature review; uses others original research. lists citations/references

Author addresses concerns of discipline about a topic or article


To inform and disseminate research

To fill a knowledge need in the discipline

To discuss an area or concern in the discipline

Article Examples

Journals, magazines and periodicals. What's the difference?

The term periodicals covers a broad category of items published on a recurring basis. Periodicals include:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Academic Journals


Newspapers usually come out every day and report short stories on current events that are usually written for a general audience.


Magazines are periodicals that include short stories, news, in-depth reporting, and other types of articles directed towards a general audience. Most people can read a magazine article and understand it. In academia, we often refer to magazines as popular literature.


Journals are generally for an academic audience. The articles are written by researchers in a particular field for other researchers in that field. Usually, journals will include editorials, literature reviews, and primary research articles. Often times you may need to have a background in, or a degree to understand the primary research articles in a journal.

If you need to, go back and review some of the videos on the Scholarly vs. Popular page under the How Information is Organized tab

Use the Journal List.

The library subscribes to almost 200,000 journals!  If you have a citation for a journal article, how do you find out if the library has it?  Is it in a database or is it only available in print?  The easy way to find the answer to all of these questions is by using the Library's Journal List.


Using the Journal List to Find an Article

(DUC Library's Channel, 2013, January 18)

Try it!

Now that you know how to use the journal list, trying finding the article in this citation:

Lakdawalla, E. (2013). The history of water on Mars. Sky & Telescope, 126(3), 16-22.

The Journal List

Resource Type:
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