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Understanding What Are Academic Journals: Your Essential Guide to Scholarly Publications

April 30,2024 Views: 1060

What are academic or scholarly journals? They are specialized publications where scholars disseminate new research, subjected to a meticulous peer-review process to ensure validity and quality. These journals contain research papers written by experts, are peer-reviewed, intended for experts and individuals pursuing a specific field of study, and provide in-depth knowledge about various areas of study and interest. This article will guide you through the structure, purpose, and impact of these essential pillars of academia.

Key Takeaways

● Academic journals are specialized publications containing peer-reviewed scholarly articles that contribute to knowledge within various fields, distinguished by their technical detail and comprehensive peer review process.

● The peer review process is central to the credibility of academic journals, involving multiple stages and expert reviewers who critically assess manuscripts for their validity, adherence to the field, and quality of research before publication.

● Access to academic journals has evolved with the transition from print to digital, and they are now widely available through library databases, JSTOR, or direct subscription models, with open access journals offering free content supported by article publication charges.

Defining Academic Journals

Entering the world of academia, you’ll discover respected academic journals. These publications contain research articles, crafted by experts, that contribute to the knowledge in their specific fields. These are not your everyday articles. Instead, they are scholarly articles distinguished by their technical nuance and advanced level of detail, often including an abstract which provides a succinct summary without prior knowledge. A journal article in these publications may range from traditional scholarly articles to electronic journals incorporating new types of content such as video material and data sets, reflecting the evolution from print to e-journals and the growth of open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals.

The Core Purpose of Academic Journals

Fundamentally, academic journals play a key role in promoting knowledge across various fields of study. They serve as a robust platform for scholarly communication among a specialized audience primarily composed of researchers, scholars, and academics.

These journals are dedicated to presenting new research findings, data, and posing significant questions that are relevant to experts in the field.

Types of Content in Academic Journals

Academic journals are diverse in their content, offering a variety of types, each with its unique purpose. They commonly publish original research articles and research articles that report on new empirical studies and findings in a specific field. But there’s more to them than just original research.

Academic journals also include review articles that compile, summarize, and assess existing research about a particular topic. And it doesn’t stop there. Book reviews are another type of content featured in academic journals, offering critical evaluations of recently published books relevant to the scholarly community.

The Peer Review Process: Ensuring Quality in Scholarly


Peer review is fundamental to academic publishing. Articles in academic journals, including those in a peer reviewed journal, undergo this process to evaluate their quality and relevance within the discipline. The peer review process involves more than just the author. An editorial board and experts critically assess the articles before they are published, ensuring that the content is of the highest quality.

Stages of Peer Review

The peer review process is complex. It spans ten steps, from the submission of the  paper to the communication of the editor’s decision to the author. It begins with an initial submission of the manuscript, followed by a check at the editorial office to ensure it meets the journal’s guidelines.

Manuscripts go through the following process:

1.    The Editor-in-Chief appraises the manuscript for adherence to the scope and originality of the journal. It may be rejected at this stage.

2.    Reviewers are carefully selected based on their expertise and asked to evaluate the manuscript.

3.    Reviewers provide recommendations to revise, accept, or reject the manuscript.

The final decisions on the manuscript are made after editors evaluate all reviews, and authors are then communicated with, receiving feedback, which includes anonymous comments or suggestions for improvement.

The Role of Peer Reviewers

In academic publishing, peer reviewers function as gatekeepers. Chosen for their expertise in the manuscript’s subject area, they evaluate the validity of the research, its experimental design quality, and the significance to the field. Reviewers are tasked with a detailed evaluation which includes multiple readings of the paper and composing a comprehensive review that addresses various aspects of the manuscript.

Following their review, they make recommendations concerning the manuscript’s acceptance, propose revisions, and point out errors, thus contributing to the manuscript’s improvement prior to publication. Peer reviewers commonly perform their review work without compensation, motivated by professional responsibility, the desire to stay abreast of current research, or for furthering their careers.

Identifying Scholarly Journals

How can you identify a scholarly journal? One way is to look at their professional affiliations. Scholarly journals are often published through a professional organization or a university press, establishing their academic and professional nature. Another clue is the DOI number. A DOI number is used for uniquely identifying academic journal articles and research reports. It allows for providing a stable link on the web.

Visual Cues of Scholarly Publications

While the content within a scholarly journal is rich and in-depth, its exterior presentation is quite the opposite. Scholarly journals typically lack the colorful  graphics, eye-catching headlines, or advertisements that are common in popular magazines and trade journals.

Evaluating Journal Credentials

Aside from visual cues, evaluating a journal’s credentials is critical. Scholarly articles must meticulously document and authenticate their sources to maintain high credibility and authority.

Databases with the ability to filter results to show only peer-reviewed journals assist in pinpointing credible scholarly journals.

The Importance of Scholarly Articles in Research

Scholarly articles, including scholarly journal articles, act as the driving force of research. They shape the progression of research by providing a platform for sharing new findings and theories within a field. With numerous articles published, they contribute significantly to the advancement of knowledge.

For instance, in the medical community, scholarly articles play an essential role in informing clinicians about research advances, prompting them to update and improve their patient care practices.

Advancing Recent Research

Research articles in scholarly journals are critical for clinicians to learn about recent medical advances and determine their relevance to practice. Scholarly articles facilitate the diffusion of new therapeutic techniques and medical knowledge that shape clinical practice. They also serve as a primary source of information for clinicians looking to stay informed and make evidence-based changes in practice.

Supporting Academic Writing and Study

Beyond the medical community, scholarly articles have a significant impact on academic writing and study. Educators often prefer using scholarly journals as credible sources for academic writing and study due to the expertise of authors and the thorough review process entailed.

Academic journals provide secondary research material, such as research papers, that can be used as supporting evidence in student essays, assignments, and professional research.

Accessing and Utilizing Academic Journals

The digital age has made accessing scholarly journals more straightforward than ever. Platforms like JSTOR provide access to a variety of academic journals which can be browsed by different collections, and include diverse media types such as primary sources and artworks.

Library databases are instrumental tools for finding academic journals online, offering extensive resources including books, scholarly articles, and newspapers with options to filter by relevance or date.

Navigating Library Databases

Effective navigation of library databases requires knowledge of keyword strategies and filters. Using keywords and Boolean operators often results in more effective search outcomes than typing full sentences. Library databases like Academic Search Premier allow the implementation of these strategies to specifically search for peer-reviewed scholarly articles.

Researchers can refine their searches by setting limits on material type or publication date to focus their results.

Understanding Open Access and Subscription Models

How to access these journals depends on their access model. Open access journals allow free access to their content, while subscription-based journals require payment, usually handled by a university or institution’s library.

Open access journals typically involve authors, funders, or institutions paying an article publication charge to make articles freely accessible, whereas subscription-only journals do not charge authors for publication but restrict access to paid subscribers.

The Evolution of Academic Journals

Over the years, the landscape of academic journals has undergone significant changes. Initially, the transition from traditional print to electronic journals faced various challenges, such as technical hurdles, doubts about their scholarly validity, and a strong preference among researchers for print formats.

From Print to Digital: A Historical Perspective

The transition from print to digital was a complex process. It involved:

● The creation of Postmodern Culture in 1990, the first purely electronic journal

● The establishment of online repositories such as arXiv in 1991

● Early experimentation in the 1980s

● An increase in use and diverse practices during the mid-1990s

● A phase of growing adaptation into researchers’ habits by the late 1990s

Addressing Challenges: Predatory Journals and Open Access Debates

Digital publishing presented its own set of challenges. The internet’s potential for being a large ‘vanity press ’ materialized into the concrete issue ofpredatory publishing, representing a segment of the academic publishing market that exploits the system.

Predatory journals:

● Utilize the open access model

● Charge authors publication fees without providing genuine editorial and peer-review processes

● Threaten the quality and integrity of academic work.

Academic Journals Across Disciplines

Academic journals are multidisciplinary, catering to a variety of fields including:

● social sciences

● physical sciences

● arts

● humanities

● education

Regardless of the field, whether it’s the social sciences or natural sciences, there are specialized academic journals that address the needs of a particular academicdiscipline.

Subject-Specific Journals

Subject-specific academic journals focus on a particular discipline, offering in-depth analysis and research within that field. Journals such as Political Communication, Zoo Biology, and American Literature cater to distinct academic fields and showcase the specialization within subject-specific publications.

Multidisciplinary Journals

In contrast, multidisciplinary academic journals:

● Publish research from various academic disciplines

● Promote interdisciplinary discourse

● Foster interdisciplinary discourse among researchers

● Contribute to the wider dissemination of knowledge across extensive scholarly audiences.


In conclusion, academic journals play a critical role in the world of academia. They offer a platform for specialists to share their findings, facilitate scholarly communication, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in various fields.

They undergo a rigorous peer review process to ensure the quality and significance of the content. And while they have evolved from print to digital formats, they continue  to maintain their credibility and authority, providing vital resources for research and academic study.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an academic journal?

An academic journal is a respected publication that contains research articles written by experts to contribute to the body of knowledge in their specific fields. It is a valuable resource for scholars and researchers.

What is the purpose of academic journals?

The purpose of academic journals is to share new research findings and enable communication among experts in a particular field. This helps in advancing knowledge and understanding in the field.

What is the peer review process?

The peer review process involves experts and an editorial board critically evaluating articles to ensure their quality and significance within the discipline. This helps maintain high standards in academic publishing.

How can I identify a scholarly journal?

You can identify a scholarly journal by looking for professional affiliations, DOI numbers, references, and author credentials. These indicators demonstrate the credibility and academic rigor of the publication.

What is the difference between open access and subscription models?

The main difference between open access and subscription models is that open access journals provide free access to their content, while subscription-based journals require payment for access. This allows for greater accessibility to research and information for a wider audience.