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What Is A Periodical?

Whenever you read an issue of Time, Sports Illustrated or the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, you are using a periodical. Periodicals are magazines, scholarly journals, newspapers, and newsletters. They are publications that are published at regular intervals. Daily newspapers, weekly magazines, and quarterly journals are all periodicals.

Many periodicals are written for a general audience whose readers are not expected to have specialized knowledge or training. We usually call these periodicals magazines. However, probably even more periodicals are written for specialists and have articles that are difficult for readers who lack that background. These periodicals, written for a scholarly audience, are called journals. For a better understanding of how to identify different types of periodicals, see Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals at the end of this lesson.

Why use periodicals?

Periodical articles are often the best sources to use in research report writing.


Timeliness: The chief advantage that magazines have over books is time. Information comes out more quickly in periodicals than it can in books. Often times, an article that will eventually appear in book form, originally appears in an article in a magazine or journal. Some disciplines, especially the science and technology fields such as engineering, rely very heavily on periodicals for the latest developments in their rapidly changing fields.

Original sources: Results of original research are often printed in periodicals first. Reviews of new books, works of art and performances often only appear in periodicals. Often the information contained in a periodical article will never appear elsewhere, either in a book or other work.

Ease of use: Periodicals can often provide good summary information on a field. For a short research paper, information from articles may be easier to manage than a lengthy book. Consider how in-depth you want your information to be.


Outdated information: Research results published in periodicals is often quickly disproved by more current research. Depending on what your topic is, you may want to make sure that the information you have is indeed the latest report. A book may be a better format in that several studies may be compared at once and indicate the progression of different experiments or studies and may indicate a more complete picture.

Incorrect information: Because of the pressure of deadlines with periodicals, information is not always checked as thoroughly as it is in books. This problem will vary, depending on the review policy of a particular publication.

Lack of context: Even if you are only interested in one section of a larger work on a topic, having the context of the larger work can help in the understanding of the one section.

Where are periodicals located?

Most of Rasmuson Library periodicals are available electronically,  accessible through Rasmuson Library databases. Some periodicals are still available in print and located in the Periodicals Collection on Level 3 Rasmuson Library.  Keep in mind, print periodicals can also be found on every other level of the library. For example:

  • Annual reports and proceedings from conferences can be found in the regular stacks
  • Alaskan magazines and newspapers can be found in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection
  • and journals from U.S. government agencies can be found in the Government Documents Collection

The library catalog will indicate which collection and which level to find a specific periodical.

Continue on to Periodical Indexes to learn how to find the articles on your topic and the periodicals that publish those articles.

This page was last modified on March 22, 2020