Journal articles are the most up-to-date and prestigious pieces of academic writing, usually in the style of essays or reports. They are special because they are published by experts, fact-checked and can challenge conventional wisdom. However, they do have some drawbacks too. They can be difficult for readers to access, they are written in very complicated language and they tend to age faster than books.
All journal articles are published in journals, which are periodicals, just like magazines and newspapers. Just like other periodicals, journals tend to have a particular subject (e.g. Nature publishes articles on science and technology). That means that when you find an article you want to use in your own writing, it is important to write down the volume and/or issue number of the journal, and also the page range of where the article occurs within the issue. On an article’s dedicated webpage, you can also find its “metrices” – these are numbers which show how successful a journal is. The “impact factor” is the average number of times the article is likely to be cited in its life. The “citated by” or “citations” number is the number of times the article has been cited so far, and the “social media factor” is the number of times the article has been mentioned on social media.
The most important thing to remember about journal articles is that they go through “peer-review”. This means that all articles in academic journals have been checked by other experts (usually two, but sometimes more), who both agree that the article is reasonable and worthy of publication as the latest word on a subject.
Articles are different from essays and reports in a few ways. First, they can be much longer than typical reports. They are edited by the journal editors to give them a more authoritative look. They also have some elements which are nearly unique to journal articles. They start with an abstract or synopsis, so that the reader knows exactly what is going to come next. Modern journal articles will have DOI (digital object identifier) numbers which never change, so that readers can always look them up in a central database.
Below is a visual guide to a journal.
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