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Why Evaluate?: Types of Publications

A table to defining types of publications and best places to search for them.

Popular? Scholarly? Peer Reviewed? What's the diff?

Photo of a double rainbowDepending on the assignment and/or audience, a great deal. After all, if you're talking to a group of 5th graders, you probably wouldn't use the following quotation:

"Supernumerary rainbows result from interference of light that undergoes single internal reflection, but travels along different paths inside a raindrop. Such rainbows provide a strong indication of the wave nature of light." (Sawicki, M. (2000). Supernumerary rainbows. Physics Teacher, 38(1), 19.


diagram illustrating how sunlight refracts through a raindrop to create a rainbow


You would probably use something like this instead:

Tiny raindrops stay in the air after a rainstorm. When storm clouds pass, the sun appears. Sunlight looks white, but it is actually made up of seven colors. When sunlight shines through the raindrops in the air, the light separates into all of its colors. Those colors form a rainbow. (The calm after the storm. (2004). Weekly Reader - Edition 2, 73(25), 3.

Knowing how to tell the difference lets your instructor see that you understand the assignment and the audience and helps establish your credibility and authority in his or her eyes.

How to Tell the Difference:*

 Auburn University Libraries has access to everything from "popular" magazines through "trade/technical" publications to "scholarly/professional/refereed" journals. Here is a chart which lists some typical characteristics of these three kinds of publications. However, some publications defy easy categories, so contact Ask A Librarian or stop by the Reference Desk for more help.


(refereed or peer-reviewed)


Magazine cover
Magazine Cover Art

Journal Cover Art

commercial firm
commercial firm or association
university or association
(large scientific/academic publishers)
weekly,biweekly, or monthly
weekly, biweekly, or monthly
general readers
special readers (persons employed in that field)
special readers (academics & researchers)
colorful, illustrated
colorful, illustrated
plain, mostly text
Article Type
short, nontechnical & graphics
short, technical w. photos & graphics
long, research style w. tables & charts
Writing Style
informal, journalistic
informal, journalistic
formal and/or scientific
staff writers
staff writers & persons employed in that field
academics and researchers
News Content
covers broad issues and popular and/or business affairs
covers narrow trade or professional issues
NO news coverage
ads for business or consumer products
ads for specialized trade/professional products & services
ads for books, if any
Research Apparatus
extensive bibliographies & advanced statistics


**The images of Time and BillBoard  link to the library catalog. The links in the table under examples are available through Auburn University Libraries' Databases and may require login if you are off campus.