Writing Well: Mags and Rags

Mags and Rags

For more timely information, check out periodicals, material that is published on a regular schedule, such as weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, four times a year, and so on. Newspapers, magazines, and journals are classified as periodicals.

Word Watch

Periodical literature is published on a regular basis, such as newspapers, magazines, and journals.

Back in the good old days, when a dollar was worth a dollar, when kids trudged five miles to school uphill in the snow, etc., periodicals were indexed in print. To get the actual article, you had to jot down the bibliographic citation, ask a clerk to retrieve the magazine, and then read it. If the periodical was on microfilm or microfiche, you had to jimmy it into a machine to read.

Write Angles

When you're dealing with research, more is better, so try to collect more material than you think you need.

In today's technological age, a dollar isn't worth a dollar, it rarely snows and no one walks, and many libraries use computerized databases in place of printed indexes. Some databases include only periodicals; others include books, media, and much more. No matter what information is indexed, each entry provides the title, author, and sometimes, a summary. You can read the entire article from the screen, print it, or e-mail it to your home computer. This is a wonderful thing.

Writer's Block

Be sure the index you're searching lists the kind of sources you want. For example, you wouldn't find a lot of stuff on stock funds in the Humanities Index. Don't be tricked into thinking the library doesn't have any material on your topic when it's just in a different index.

Every library has different periodical databases. Here are some of the best ones:

  • DataTimes is an online index to local newspapers.
  • DIALOG is an extensive, well-regarded database.
  • ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) and Education Index are the place to be for information on education.
  • InfoTrak lists more than 1,000 business, technological, and general-interest periodicals, including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
  • LEXIS/NEXIS affords access to thousands of full-text articles.
  • MEDLINE is a very well-respected source for information on medical topics.
  • MILCS is a database of all the holdings of academic and public libraries in specific regions.
  • OCLC First Search lists all the periodicals, media, and books in the United States and Canada. It has many indexes.
  • PAIS, the Public Affairs Informational Service, is great for economics. Ditto for EconLit.
  • ATLA Religion Database covers religion.
  • VU/TEXT is a newspaper database.
  • WILSONSEARCH is an online information system containing the Wilson databases not on CD-ROM, such as the Education Index and the Index to Legal Periodicals.

While more and more libraries are replacing their print indexes with online and CD-ROM sources, many libraries still maintain their print indexes, so you'll have to check both sources. In addition, the CD-ROM or online databases may not reach back far enough to include the sources you need, especially if you're doing historical research. Therefore, you're probably going to have to use both print and online indexes.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.