About Academic Journal Articles:
Academic journals are periodicals, publications that come out regularly (once a week, once a month, etc.). Academic journals differ from periodicals meant for a general readership (like a magazine or newspaper) in several ways. Academic journals are usually published by non-profit presses and their material undergoes a rigorous review process by other professionals in the field before they are published. This is called "peer review" and is part of the academic information cycle explained in the graphic below. Unless your professor tells you that you can use mass publications for a general readership like Time, National Geographic, etc., you should rely on material from peer-reviewed, academic journals.
Academic journals typically publish several different kinds of material related to the specialty of the journal. Most professors will want you to focus on the articles that are published in the journal. Articles are shorter works by professional historians or scholars on a given subject, usually based on new and original research. These tend to be between 15-50 pages long. But journals also publish book reviews of recent books in the field (typically 1-5 pages), recently uncovered primary sources, or “forums” where several scholars debate or discuss a given subject. Be sure that you examine journal materials carefully and know what kind of material you have found! Most library search engines will allow you to limit the search for articles, book reviews, or other materials, so that is an effective way to know that you are working only with one of these kinds of sources.
Because academic journal articles survey similar work by other experts and include substantial citations of other scholars' work, examining their citations is an especially effective way to locate sources. Librarians refer to this practice of finding related works by looking through the works cited in a publication as "pearl growing." Click here for a video showing you how this can work. Click here for information on how to locate articles (you'll have to scroll down on the page for articles).
The titles of the journals in which essays appear usually have the term “Journal” or “Review” in their title and tend to describe their specialty. For instance, The Journal of American History specializes in United States history, whereas Environmental History Review publishes work related to environmental history in general, regardless of geography. Make sure that the journal’s specialty is appropriate for your topic.
You need to be able to recognize key information in a citation in order to be able to locate these sources. When looking at a bibliography or citation, there is a distinction between the title of the journal and the title of the article. The title of the journal is always italicized, whereas the title of the article itself is given in quotation marks. You should refer to these materials as “articles” or “essays”.
The following is an example of a footnote or endnote citation of an academic journal article, with the parts then identified individually:
Charles Lee, " Public Poor Relief and the Massachusetts Community, 1620-1715," The New England Quarterly 55.4 (1982), 565.
Understanding how academic information reaches you will help you make an informed decision on the best sources for your task.
Credit to Carly Frerichs (UWL Class of 2015) for this graphic.
This video from Kimbel Library also explains the academic research cycle.
Click the link below for a pdf of this image