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Henry Madden Library

Step 5 - Find, Review, and Evaluate Journal Articles

Key points
  1. Understand the difference between popular magazines and scholarly journals.
  2. Learn how to search for information in library databases and how to access the articles you find.
  3. Evaluate articles based on your own criteria for your project.

journal articles

You now have some useful books on your topic, so the next step is to search for articles. Articles are found in periodical publications, issued on a regular or "periodic" basis (daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly). These include newspapers, popular magazines, and academic or scholarly journals. Scholarly articles are usually the most appropriate source of information for research papers.

Popular vs. scholarly

It’s important to understand the differences between popular magazines and scholarly journals. They may look similar but have important distinctions. Magazines are written by journalists or staff writers and are intended for a general audience. Journals are written by scholars in a field, and are read by other scholars, college students or researchers.

Whereas a magazine article may be approved for publication by the editor of the magazine, a journal article is usually reviewed by specialists or other scholars in that field. A subset of this group is the “refereed” or “peer reviewed” journal. Your instructor will often require you to use sources from this type of journal.

Some other criteria for differentiating between popular and scholarly articles are:

  Popular magazines Scholarly Journals
Audience General public; use language understood by the average reader Students, scholars, researchers; use specialized language of a discipline
News items, feature stories, editorials and opinion pieces Original research, theory; may include an abstract
Appearance Visual, lots of advertising, color, photos, short articles with no bibliographies or references Little or no advertising, lengthy articles, charts and tables, bibliographies & references
Authors May or may not be named, frequently a staff writer, not a subject expert Scholars, specialists, articles are signed, credentials such as degrees and university affiliation are given.
Purpose News, general information or entertainment, opinion Disseminate research findings, publicize current topics in the field and professional issues

Your instructor may ask you to include a primary source of information in your research. How do you determine whether something is a primary or secondary source?

Old LetterCitation

Primary sources of information include:

Secondary sources of information analyze or interpret primary sources, and include:

Books and Pen

You can determine if you have a primary source by using this Checklist of Primary vs. Secondary.

And here is a nice graphic from New York University Libraries with lots more information about primary sources!

Finding articles

So where do we start?

Library databases are the best place to find articles on a specific topic. A database is an online searchable collection of articles published in journals, magazines or newspapers. The database will give you the author, title, name of periodical, volume, pages and date of publication for each article, which is called the citation. And in many cases, there will also be a link to the full-text of the article.

The Henry Madden Library subscribes to an extensive list of databases on a wide variety of subjects. To find articles, start at the library's homepage and select Search for Articles & More

From this page you can select one of the subject areas and choose databases from that list, or you can begin with a general database which covers all disciplines. Academic Search Complete is a great place to start your research.

Alphabetical list of library databases


On the search page, look for the Limit to Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals if you only want scholarly articles. It is usually best to start with a keyword search. This allows you to combine important search terms or phrases.

Ebsco database  keyword search for


Here is an example of a keyword search:

Ebsco database search results page for keywords


If you don't see links to the full-text, click on Madden Article Link located in every citation. This opens a menu of options, with information about our library’s holdings for that journal title.

Library holdings information for a journal article citation

There will often be a direct link to the full-text of the article. Or there will be holdings information from our catalog indicating print or microfilm format, years of coverage, and location.

Another link from this same page allows you to format this citation for your bibliography!

Important Remember

Explore a variety of subject areas for lists of databases relating to your topic. Different databases index different journals, so you will want to search in several to make sure you are getting the best information. Each database may have its own look, but they all work the same – enter keywords or subjects and retrieve articles from journals indexed in that specific database.

If you still aren’t finding what you need, refer back to Step 2 for tips on narrowing or broadening your topic, use other terms or synonyms for your concepts, and remember you can always ask for help from the Reference Librarian

Journal titles

What if you just want to know if the library has a particular journal? You may have a citation from a bibliography or just want to look at a specific journal. To see if the library has it, go to the Journals by Title link on the library homepage, type in the title of the journal, and the library’s holdings (if any) will be listed – whether online, print, or microfilm.

Evaluating Journal Articles

Articles in databases have already been published, and have gone through a review and editing process, unlike web sites. But it is still a good idea to evaluate them.

Source- Look for articles from scholarly journals, written by experts in the subject. There will be references that can lead you to additional books and articles on the topic. In some databases, you can limit your search by type of article -- a research article, an editorial, a review, or a clinical trial.

Length- The length of the article, noted in the citation, can be a good clue as to whether the article will be useful for research.

Authority- Use authoritative sources in your research. Use articles written by experts in the subject area, and who are affiliated with an academic institution.

Date– research in many subjects requires the most current information available. Is the article sufficiently up-to-date for your purpose?

Audience - For what type of reader is the author writing? If an article is written for other professionals, it will use terms and language special to the subject area.

Usefulness - Is the article relevant to your research topic?