In this chapter, we’ll focus on journal articles but also talk about other types of scholarly materials you’ll encounter in your research – what they are, how to find them, and how to interpret what you find.
We’ll start with journal articles, papers written by subject experts and published in scholarly journals. In the course of your studies your instructor may tell you to use “peer reviewed journals” in a writing assignment. Most of the time, what your instructor means is that you need to use individual articles published in a peer reviewed journal, not the entire journal and all its contents.
Articles and Journals: Knowing the difference
The term articles refers to the papers within journals, magazines, and newspapers. The term journal means the entire publication. There are specific tools and search techniques that help you find articles, and others that help you find journals. For this reason, it’s important to recognize the difference between articles and journals.
Journals are published on a regular, ongoing basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). Journals can be broken up into volumes, issues, and articles. An article is a single paper focused on one topic, most often the results of a single research project. An issue is a set of articles published together each week, month, or quarter. A volume is a collection of all the issues published in a single year.
The parts of a journal are easier to remember if you compare them to parts of a television show.
- An article in a journal focuses on a topic in the same way that a scene in a television show focuses on a plot element.
- A collection of articles forms an issue similar to the way scenes come together to complete an episode. Not all journal articles within the same issue will be on the exact same topic. They may just be loosely related within the same discipline. Think of a show with multiple plot lines or separate segments (e.g., Saturday Night Live sketches).
- A year’s worth of issues adds up to a volume in the same way episodes comprise a season.
- These volumes are part of a journal, like seasons are part of a series. Some have completed their run, and some are ongoing.
- Journals and the articles they contain are made available through indexes in a similar way to how series and episodes are made available by networks or distributors (e.g. CBS, Netflix, ESPN). You’ll learn more about indexes later in this chapter.
The main difference between journals and books is that journals are published on an ongoing basis and books are only published once. As such, we search for them differently. Since journal issues are released frequently, articles can address up-to-date research on a subject long before a book can be written and published. It takes a great deal longer to compile the information necessary for a 200-page book than it takes to write, review, and publish a 10-page journal article. Because of this, many academic disciplines (such as the sciences) rely on journal articles more than books to communicate major research findings and new ideas.