MLA Style Helper: Magazine or Journal?

To choose the right citation pattern for a source, use this MLA style helper to learn the difference between magazines and journals.

It can sometimes be hard to tell which is which. Both magazines and journals are published periodically, but magazines are directed at a general audience, whereas journals are designed for professionals in a certain field. The name of the publication can be one way to tell the difference. If it has the word “Journal” or “Review” in its name, it’s usually (though not always) a journal. Ladies Home Journal is an obvious exception.

It’s even more effective to look at the article title. If it’s a very long title, giving details of a research study, that’s a journal article. For example, “Why students struggle with writing academic term papers: A review of the symptoms and causes” would be a journal article.

But the easiest way to determine whether a source is a magazine or journal is probably to ask this question: In a professional’s office, would you find this publication in the waiting room, or on the professional’s desk?

For example, patients wouldn’t browse through the Journal of the American Medical Association while waiting for their appointment. But they might enjoy Men’s Health.

On the other hand, while a therapist’s clients might like reading Psychology Today, we hope that the therapist keeps up with the Journal of the American Psychological Association.

Any publication you could imagine reading in a waiting room is most likely a magazine. Any that a person without a degree in that field wouldn’t read for information or pleasure is probably a journal.

MLA Style Format

The only difference in how magazines and journals are documented is how you give readers the date of publication.

Most magazines are published either monthly or weekly, so they’ll have dates like March 2007 or April 20, 2005.

Journals, though, could be published anywhere from monthly to only once a year. For this reason, typically a journal will have a volume number that changes each year and an issue number that changes each time it’s published. For example, the first time a journal is published, that would be volume one issue one. The next issue would be volume one issue two. The next year would then start with volume two issue one. And so on.

If you’re using a hard copy, you’ll find the date of publication in the corner of the pages. If your article came from a database such as EbscoHost or Lexis Nexis, the database will give you this information.

But beware: the database will often give you more information than you need to cite the source. It may give you a volume number even for a magazine. You don’t need to include this in your citation. Follow the citation pattern exactly, no matter what the database information says.

For a full explanation of how MLA works, see MLA Documentation Style.
For step-by-step directions in citing sources in MLA style, see MLA Style Made Positively Simple.

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