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Contents: Popular Periodicals
Scholarly Periodicals
Trade Publications
Gray Literature
Indexes and Abstracts

There are several types of periodicals found in academic library collections. Knowing something about the characteristics of each type--popular, scholarly, or trade--will help in identifying the appropriate type of periodical titles.
  • Tend to have short articles (1-5 pages)
  • Cover a variety of topic/subject areas (Time, The New Yorker, National Review ). They may also cover a single subject area with the intention of informing or entertaining the readership (Sports Illustrated or Audubon).
  • Contain articles that do not contain a bibliography or cited reference page. The reader cannot check the author's information by tracking down and reading the original information source.
  • Intended for a non-academic, non-specialized audience.
  • Use conventional/conversational language, as opposed to a specialized vocabulary.
  • Provide articles written by journalists, rather than researchers or specialists in a given field.
  • Provide articles often accompanied by photographs or other illustrations.
  • Include extensive commercial advertising.
  • Issued frequently (i.e. come out weekly, bi-weekly or monthly).
  • Are sometimes in newspaper format.
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  • Include lengthy articles (five to fifty+ pages) which contain original research or results of a study done in a specific subject area (e.g. music theory, psychology, medicine).
  • Contain articles with footnotes or cited reference pages. The cited references allow the reader to consult the same material that the author used in his/her research.
  • Intended for an academic or scholarly audience and use technical or specialized vocabulary.
  • Publish articles written by scholars, specialists, or researchers in the field (as opposed to articles written by journalists reporting on or synthesizing research).
  • Publish reviews of the literature.
  • Include articles with charts or tables: news photos and other types of graphics are often not used except in the case of articles on visual subjects such as art, design, or architecture.
  • Produced under the editorial supervision of a professional association (e.g. Journal of the American Medical Association) or by a scholarly press (e.g. University of Washington Press).
  • Contain little or no advertising or photographs.
  • Issued less frequently than magazines (i.e. two to twelve times per year.)
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  • Intended for a very specific audience, usually managers or administrators in business, finance, or industry (e.g. Brandweek, Constructor, or Food Management).
  • Issued weekly or monthly to take advantage of fast-breaking changes in products or technology.
  • Contain regular columns of news and commentary, as well as lengthier articles about current issues and trends of interest to people in the field.
  • Include articles written by specialists or journalists.
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There are several commonly understood meanings for the term gray literature. Gray literature can be used to describe publications which contain key elements of both popular magazines and scholarly journals. These publications usually include advertisements, news reports, brief articles and photographs, and may be published by large commercial publishers. However, they also include book reviews and articles which are scholarly in nature. Telltale signs of a scholarly article include an abstract, a bibliography, and pertinent information about the author (such as the educational institution he/she is affiliated with). Some examples of this kind of gray literature are Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, Discover, and Science.

Gray literature can also mean literature that has "fallen through the cracks," i.e. is not easy to locate. Typically this is because it has not been indexed. Examples are publications produced by think tanks, research organizations, or advocacy groups such as Green Peace. Some government documents would belong in this category. One of the largest sources of gray literature to date is the World Wide Web. If you are looking for publications that fit this definition of gray literature, ask a reference librarian for assistance.

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Indexes and abstracts are used to locate journal articles, conference proceedings, and reviews. The Library has numerous indexes, encompassing all subject areas and types of publications. Often indexes and abstracts cover a specific subject area, such as Chemical Abstracts, or a group of interrelated disciplines, such as Social Sciences Index or Applied Science and Technology Index.

In most indexes you may look under an author or a subject. to retrieve a citation to a magazine or journal article. A citation will include all the information you need to find the article: author, title of the article, title of the magazine or journal, volume, date, page. Abstracts go a step further and provide a paragraph summarizing the article. Often you can tell from the abstract whether or not the article is an in-depth journal article or a more superficial magazine article. If you decide the entire article is worth reading, the next step is to look in EUREKA to see if our Library owns or has access to the journal, either electronically or in print.

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An increasing number of indexes are available electronically; they contain citations, abstracts, and sometimes the full text of articles. Searching for abstracts and citations is easier in these databases because they allow for searching more than one year at a time. One disadvantage to electronic databases is that they generally donít have a very extensive backfile, often only the last ten to fifteen years. When searching for older articles, print indexes and abstracts remain the only option.

The databases are available through the Library Home Page. Click on Databases and Periodical Indexes to get an alphabetical listing of the databases by title or to select a database by subject.

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A Sacramento State Library Research Guide compiled by Carolyn Zeitler and revised by Maria Kochis, Science Reference Librarian, Last updated 6/09