Periodical literature

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Short description: Regularly scheduled published work

The cover of an issue of the open-access journal PLOS Biology, published monthly by the Public Library of Science

Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of serial publications that appear in a new edition on a regular schedule.[1] The most familiar example is the magazine, typically published weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Other examples of periodicals are newsletters, academic journals and yearbooks.[1] Newspapers, often published daily or weekly, are, strictly speaking, a separate category of serial.[2][3] Periodicals are most often referenced by volume and Issue. Periodicals have a set period and can be classified as popular and scholarly. Indefinite periodicals have an indefinite production cycle and have no plans to stop publishing. Periodicals use the International Standard Serial Numbers a standardized reference number. Periodicals often have a preferred and lower for postal distribution.

Volumes and issues

Periodicals are typically published and referenced by volume and issue (also known as issue number or number). Volume typically refers to the number of years the publication has been circulated, and issue refers to how many times that periodical has been published during that year. For example, the April 2011 publication of a monthly magazine first published in 2002 would be listed as, "volume 10, issue 4". Roman numerals are sometimes used in reference to the volume number.[1]

When citing a work in a periodical, there are standardized formats such as The Chicago Manual of Style. In the latest edition of this style, a work with volume number 17 and issue number 3 may be written as follows:

  • James M. Heilman, and Andrew G. West. "Wikipedia and Medicine: Quantifying Readership, Editors, and the Significance of Natural Language." Journal of Medical Internet Research 17, no. 3 (2015). doi:10.2196/jmir.4069.

Sometimes, periodicals are numbered in absolute numbers instead of volume-relative numbers, typically since the start of the publication. In rare cases, periodicals even provide both: a relative issue number and an absolute number.[4] There is no universal standard for indicating absolute numbers, but often a '#' is used.

The first issue of a periodical is sometimes also called a premiere issue or charter issue.[5] The first issue may be preceded by dummy or zero issues. A last issue is sometimes called the final issue.[6]


Periodicals are often characterized by their period (or frequency) of publication.[7][8] This information often helps librarian make decisions about whether or not to include certain periodicals in their collection.[9] It also helps scholars decide which journal to submit their paper to.[10]

Period Meaning Frequency
Quinquennially Once per 5 years 15 per year
Quadriennially Once per 4 years 14 per year
Triennially Once per 3 years 13 per year
Biennially Once per 2 years 12 per year
Annually Once per year 1 per year
Semiannually, Biannually Twice per year 2 per year
Triannually Thrice per year 3 per year
Quarterly Every quarter 4 per year
Bimonthly Every 2 months 6 per year
Semi-quarterly Twice per quarter 8 per year
Monthly Every month 12 per year
Semi-monthly Twice per month 24 per year
Biweekly, Fortnightly Every two weeks 26 per year
Weekly Every week 52 per year
Semi-weekly Twice per week 104 per year
Daily Once per business day Varies

Popular and scholarly

Cover of Science in School magazine[11]

Periodicals are often classified as either popular or scholarly. Popular periodicals are usually magazines (e.g., Ebony and Esquire). Scholarly journals are most commonly found in libraries and databases. Examples are The Journal of Psychology and the Journal of Social Work.

Trade magazines are also examples of periodicals. They are written for an audience of professionals in the world. As of the early 1990s, there were over 6,000 academic, business, scientific, technical, and trade publications in the United States alone.[12]

Indefinite vs. part-publication

These examples are related to the idea of an indefinitely continuing cycle of production and publication: magazines plan to continue publishing, not to stop after a predetermined number of editions. A novel, in contrast, might be published in monthly parts, a method revived after the success of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.[13] This approach is called part-publication, particularly when each part is from a whole work, or a serial, for example in comic books. It flourished during the nineteenth century, for example with Abraham John Valpy's Delphin Classics, and was not restricted to fiction.[14]

Standard numbers

The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is to serial publications (and by extension, periodicals) what the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is to books: a standardized reference number.


Postal services often carry periodicals at a preferential rate; for example, Second Class Mail in the United States only applies to publications issued at least quarterly.[15]

See also

  • Partwork


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Periodical". ODLIS — Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. ABC-Clio. 
  2. "Newspaper". ODLIS — Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. ABC-Clio. 
  3. "Serial". ODLIS — Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. ABC-Clio. 2006-11-12. 
  4. "Front matter". Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia (People's Computer Company) 3 (2). February 1978. #22. ISBN 0-8104-5490-4. Retrieved 2020-02-10.  [1][2]
  5. "PC: The Independent Guide To IBM Computers". PC (Software Communications, Inc.) 1 (1): front matter, 9. February–March 1982. Premiere/Charter issue. Retrieved 2020-02-10.  [3][4]
  6. Thompson, David J., ed (May 1990). "Micro Cornucopia - The Micro Technical Journal". Micro Cornucopia. Around the bend (Bend, Oregon, USA: Micro Cornucopia Inc.) (53): front matter. ISSN 0747-587X. Retrieved 2020-02-11.  [5][6][7]
  7. "Frequency of Publication codes". 
  8. "Frequencies". 
  9. Dickinson, Kelly; Boyd, Bryanna; Gunningham, Regan (29 November 2010). "Reference Analysis as an Aid in Collection Development: A Study of Master of Architecture Theses at Dalhousie University". Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management 5 (1). doi:10.5931/djim.v5i1.48. 
  10. "Where to submit your manuscript". How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper (7th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 33. ISBN 9781107670747. 
  11. "Cover of Science in School 32". 
  12. Blake, Gary; Bly, Robert W. (1993). The Elements of Technical Writing. New York: Macmillan Publishers. p. 113.. ISBN 0020130856. 
  13. "The Novel". Aspects of the Victorian Book. 
  14. Eliot, Simon; Rose, Jonathan (2007). A Companion to the History of the Book. p. 297. 
  15. "Second Class Mail". Barron's Business Dictionary. 

External links