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Periodical Literature

Wait, go back ... what is a periodical?

A periodical is a "serial ['a publication issued in successive parts, usually at regular intervals, and continued indefinitely'] with a distinctive title" issued at regular intervals, more often than once per year.

Well, you did ask ... . Periodical publications appear "periodically", daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.

In common academic parlance (ie by non-librarians), periodical literature is often subdivided in a variety of ways. Probably the most frequent subdivision is into: journal; magazine; or newspaper.

Standard library sources such as Ulrich's Periodicals Directory relate the form (physical appearance) of the item or the nature of the issuer to the publication type: academic/scholarly; trade; consumer; newsletter; newspaper; bulletin; proceedings; directories; government publications. The form academic / scholarly is further divided into juried (following a formal process of peer review or refereeing) and non-juried (following a process similar to peer review where, for instance, a board of editors knowledgeable in the field screens submissions). Ulrich's uses the phrase "Refereed Serial" to connote peer reviewed titles. The designation is based on self-identification by the publisher. In other words, if the publisher calls the title peer reviewed, Ulrich's accepts that. Users should note that there are probably titles within Ulrich's which are in fact peer reviewed but may not carry the phrase "Refereed Serial". As well, even if the periodical title is peer reviewed, some portion of the content may not be (for instance, editorials, letters, some articles, etc.).

For more on the types of periodicals, the difference between "magazines" and "journals", and the concept of peer review, please see: Periodicals (and Peer Review)

Usually, periodicals fall into the category of secondary sources, with the contents offering an interpretation and analysis of events by the author or authors and undergoing an editing and review process which introduces its own form of secondary bias.

Periodical content may include, but is not limited to:

Original research: commentaries and brief communications; research articles
Didactic: "how we did it good where I work"
Review article: historical review / summary; literature review; book (or other document/media) review
Case histories or case studies
Letters to the editor
Conference papers
Working papers

Some disciplines may become more creative in their use of terms to describe the familiar periodical. Terms such as "popular magazines" are sometimes used, often with the warning that they are unacceptable resources for undergraduate assignments, but are seldom well-defined except in the negative: for instance, "popular magazines are not scholarly / academic resources". However, used appropriately, popular magazines (and newspapers and other news sources) can provide useful leads to more scholarly material by reporting on new surveys, studies and research and giving the reader enough information to delve deeper.

Business also often makes reference to "practitioner journals", a term which may be poorly defined and indiscriminately used within the discipline or undefined and unused by a number of standard library resources (such as Ulrich's). That being the case, determining which titles are "practitioner journals" may be a matter of judgment. Generally, such titles share some common characteristics. They may:

present practical applications rather than theoretical research;
be directed to those working (practicing) in the field;
be written for those working in the field; and
occasionally deemed the "bridge" between the popular press (especially, tertiary sources) and academic / scholarly material (secondary sources)

The research methodology presented within the articles of practitioner journals is sometimes less important than the readability of the material. The utility of the content for either the practitioner (in terms of validity) or the academic will have to judged carefully.

Most university assignments will require students to identify, access and use scholarly / academic and/or peer reviewed periodical literature. Some indexes will categorize periodical titles in this way; others may expect the user to determine the appropriateness of the material to his or her research. Some individual articles may indicate both whether they have gone through a peer review process and what type of process that was (blind, double-blind, expert, editorial, etc.). The student and other users need to think critically, evaluating both the source of the content and the periodical.

Indexes, Abstracts and Full-Text Services

Indexes, abstracts and full text services allow you access to periodical literature. Generally, the choice of index would relate to the focus of your research. To begin, you might like to check out some cross discipline bibliographic databases, such as Academic Search Premier (Ebsco). For sociological and psychological aspects connected with the day, you might choose to look in PsycInfo, Sociological Abstracts, and/or Social Sciences Index. For marketing and advertising and other business related aspects, you might try Business Source Premier (Ebsco), EconLit and CBCA. For cultural, historical, religious, and ethnic aspects you might try Social Sciences Index, Humanities Index, Historical Abstracts, etc. For the literary aspects, you might try JSTOR, MLA Bibliography, Project Muse, for art and art history, the Art Index.

To decide what headings work best in your chosen database, you should check for a controlled vocabulary, a thesaurus, or other list of subject headings similar to LCSH, but specific to the database you have selected. If there is one available from within your chosen database, see how hallowe'en is expressed in that database. The choices may suggest ideas for narrowing or broadening your search, for our Hallowe'en example: halloween -- safety measures; halloween -- history; halloween -- humor; halloween -- economic aspects; and the like. You can choose to look at all references under the subject hallowe'en or only those relating to specifically defined aspects. At the beginning of your research, it might be useful to look at a number of those general items, even if they do not directly relate to the focus of your topic. They may help you narrow or broaden your search more appropriately.

Similar searching can be conducted in other databases which have a narrower initial focus. For instance, choosing MLA to search, and checking the thesaurus, you will discover that this database uses the term halloween as a subject heading. PsycInfo, which cites material related to psychology, has no subject heading listed under halloween (or hallowe'en), so you have to be a bit more creative, perhaps by performing a quick keyword search in PsycInfo on halloween. (Note: you might also want to try a search with the apostrophe as well and pay attention to the age of the items which return -- it looks like a shift in accepted spelling occurred.) Look at the key concepts that appear in the records you retrieve from the halloween search. Among them are: Halloween treats; Halloween costumes; and Halloween itself. Sociological Abstracts also has no subject heading for halloween. Instead, you need to try broader and related terms such as Holidays; Rituals; Festivals.

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This page created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
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Created: 1998/01/31 Last updated: 2014/05/06
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