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How to Tell If Your Database Article Is from a Journal, a Magazine, or a Newspaper

Often when citing article sources in MLA style, you must determine whether your article was originally published in a journal, a magazine, or a newspaper, because MLA citations are formatted somewhat differently for each.

Since database articles all look pretty much the same, you do not have the visual clues you would if you were using the print version of these sources. The source information included in most databases is also of little help, since it usually includes the same basic publication information regardless of the type of source.

The following chart can help you make the correct determination, although these are only typical guidelines, not strict rules that apply in every situation. If you are still unsure after comparing your database article to the characteristics listed below, ask a reference librarian for assistance.


Journal Magazine Newspaper
Length of article Fairly long—often 6- 20+ pages Fairly short—often 1-5 pages Very short—often 1-2 pages
Language used in article Technical, scholarly language specific to the subject area or field for which the article is written Non-technical, general language written in a style that the non-expert can understand General, non-technical language, shorter sentences, and a more “to the point” style
Structure of article The article might be divided into research sections such as: abstract, methodology, results, conclusion.
No specific structure is followed. No specific structure is followed.
References (Bibliography) A list of references (sources) appears at the end of the article. A list of references is rarely included, but sources might be mentioned in the body of the article. References are almost never included, but information sources might be mentioned.
Author information The author’s name is almost always listed; the author’s credentials (degrees, schools or companies of affiliation) appear at the beginning or end of the article. Often, more than one author is listed.
The author may or may not be named and credentials may or may not be provided. There is usually only one author. For brief articles the author is usually not named. When an author is listed on longer articles, credentials are rarely provided.

Tip #1:

If a PDF (page image) version of your magazine or journal article is available from the database, it may also help to look at that--it is an exact copy of the article as it appeared in the original print source. (Newspaper articles found in databases are not typically available as PDFs.) Some things to look for include:



Tip #2:

While a publication’s title will sometimes give you a clue as to what type of publication it is, it is not a good idea to rely on title alone. For example, The Wall Street Journal is a newspaper, Ladies’ Home Journal is a magazine, and The Lancet is a journal. Use all the clues available to you to make an informed decision.