Writing Glossary

What is a Scientific Journal?

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Written By Sikandar Riaz

As a young researcher, I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of scientific journals available.

From specialized publications to general interest periodicals, it can be challenging to know which journal is the right fit for your research.

In this article, we’ll explore the world of scientific journals and the five main types you should know.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

What is a Scientific Journal?

Scientific journals are publications with the express goal of expanding, stimulating, and facilitating inquiry in the scientific fields through publishing research, findings, or studies conducted by academic students, experts, or teachers.

This is the definition of a scientific journal.

For simplification, they are also known as specialized periodicals in which scientists publish the results of their works.

In the middle of the 17th Century London, The Royal Society of London was founded based on the objective that no scientific knowledge would be accepted until it could be verified.

The general makeup of The Royal Society consisted of men of learning and science. They often corresponded and wrote letters to each other known as the ‘transactions’.

These transactions would later on become known as the very first scientific journals.

It serves as a reservoir of scientific articles that can be referenced by other scientists or students.

A scientific research article is an article written by a scientist or an academic student for addressing a specific problem in science.

The article, by way of its findings, tries to solve that problem or offer plausible answers.

For example, research into the effects of exercise on the brain is a research article that would discuss the role exercise can play in improving our brain functions.

Scientific articles usually are filled with a lot of jargon and these types of articles are not read for leisure.

A scientific journal publishes these kinds of scientific articles so that a record of that particular research can be kept for future reference or citation.

A citation boosts a research article’s credibility, and it is a research article’s equivalent to a social media ‘shoutout’.

Scientific journals are often periodical, meaning that, just like magazines, these are published either bi-monthly or monthly.

But unlike magazines, they are not meant for light reading.

scientific journal article

What is the Purpose of a Scientific Journal?

The purpose of a scientific journal is to expand the scope of scientific knowledge.

It serves as a way for researchers and scientists to publish their findings in a systematic and organized way so that it can be used for future research by other scientists who would then take from where the previous researcher left off.

Or, as often is the case, scientific journals will promote debate on a particular subject by publishing often conflicting findings of different research on the same subject matter.

The goal is to improve people’s or the scientific community’s understanding of the subject.

The beneficiary of the publication of scientific journals is ultimately the discipline of Science.

In this respect, most research articles either contrast, compare or comment on existing data or research to confirm or disaffirm their own or others’ hypotheses.

Some other research journal articles will highlight the need for more research into a given topic.

Finally, it can be said that the ultimate purpose of a scientific journal is, as mentioned before, the need to keep a record of all the journals ever written so that our collective scientific knowledge expands.

Types of Scientific Journals

There are two categories of differentiation that one can make of scientific journals:

  1. How specific or general is the topic of a scientific publication is
  2. How the journals are accessed by researchers and the public

In the first categorization, we can identify two further types:

1. Specific Scientific Journals

The specific scientific journals are about certain very specific topics or subfields, for example, an astrophysics journal or a journal about cell biology.

2. General Scientific Journals

The general type of scientific journal deals with many subfields and subtopics under its umbrella, for example, the research journal, Nature.

In the second categorization, we can differentiate between how journals are accessed.

The following are the journal types based on the basis of how they’re accessed.

3. Open-Access Journals

Open-Access journals are free for all to access, like plos.org. These journals have a transparent ‘peer-review’ process.

4. Subscription-Based Journals

Subscription-based journals, also sometimes called ‘predatory journals, require a publication fee. These have less stringent review processes, if any at all, to get published.

5. Pre-Print Journals

Pre-print journals are journals that require researchers to publish their research or articles for review before they can be submitted to official journals.

Scientific Journal Examples

Here are some examples of well-known scientific journals:


Nature is prestigious multidisciplinary scientific journal that covers a wide range of topics, including biology, physics, chemistry, and more.

It publishes groundbreaking research and significant scientific discoveries.


Science is another influential multidisciplinary journal that publishes high-impact research across a variety of scientific disciplines. It features articles on biology, chemistry, physics, and other fields.


Cell is a journal that focuses on the life sciences, particularly cellular and molecular biology. It covers a wide range of topics from genetics and developmental biology to immunology and neurobiology.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)

NEJM is a renowned medical journal that publishes articles and research related to clinical medicine, medical research, and health policy. It covers a wide range of medical disciplines.

The Lancet

The Lancet is medical journal that publishes research related to clinical medicine, global health, and medical policy. It covers a variety of medical specialties and public health issues.

Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS)

JACS is a prominent chemistry journal that publishes research across various subfields of chemistry, including organic, inorganic, physical, and analytical chemistry.

Physics Review Letters (PRL)

PRL is a leading physics journal that publishes important research findings across all areas of physics. It focuses on rapid communication of significant results.

Psychological Science

Psychological Science is a journal that covers psychological research and studies related to various aspects of human behavior, cognition, and emotions.

Environmental Science & Technology

Environmental Science & Technology is a journal that focuses on research related to environmental issues, including pollution, conservation, environmental policy, and sustainable practices.

Journal of Applied Psychology

Journal of Applied Psychology is a journal that publishes research related to applied psychology, including studies on organizational behavior, human resources, and practical applications of psychological principles.

Journal of Clinical Oncology

JCO is a medical journal that focuses on oncology, publishing research related to cancer treatment, prevention, and patient care.

Journal of Economic Perspectives

JEP is a journal that publishes articles on various topics within economics, providing insights into economic policy, theory, and research.

How Do Scientific Journals Work?

Writing a scientific research article is different from writing a general newspaper-style article.

Usually, scientific research articles are dense with jargon, and it takes certain experts to vet the validity and credibility of a research article.

After completing the research, the author contacts the editorial team of a publication.

After confirming the relevancy of the research’s topic with the editorial team, the author sends the research over for review.

Relevancy is an important step because if the publication publishes articles only on cell biology, they will never accept research in the field of astrophysics, for example.

The editor of the publication will then send the article to be vetted by learned experts or professors of the field.

This process of vetting of the research article is called ‘peer review.’

Peer review is the process of validating, reviewing, and verifying data, findings, and results of a specific research article.

peer review example

It rarely happens that these peer reviewers will send back an article without comments, suggestions, and other recommendations for improving the validity and relevancy of the article.

Once these experts are done reviewing the article, they will send it back to the editor.

The editor then reviews the research article and also accepts or rejects comments by reviewers.

If the article lacks the crucial element of significant and relevant findings, then it is outright rejected.

If there is a need for a bit of tweaking here and there then they are usually sent back to the researcher with notes for revisions.

This back-and-forth might be done a few times more before the final manuscript is published in the journal.

To further explore how scientific journals work, we also recommend this video by R3ciprocity Team:

What Role Do Scientific Journals Play in Research?

Scientific journals play a crucial role in the advancement of scientific research.

The following are the three main roles played by scientific research journals:

1. Expanding the boundaries of theoretical knowledge.

Scientific journals will accept research that is other so that the theoretical knowledge on that specific subject can be expanded.

These kinds of research often include comparisons, contrasts, and explanations of the other research articles.

2. Recording practical experiments for other scientists to replicate.

In empirically-based research, the scientists will record not only their findings but also the method with which they reached those conclusions about a specific topic.

3. Review

Especially the peer review process, allows researchers to get their research vetted by experts in the field.

How Do You Know If Something is a Scientific Journal?

Scientific journals are usually easily identified by their style of writing.

Although it is obviously necessary that the writing in a scientific journal is without grammatical or stylistic errors and typos, the writing still is not easily comprehensible by the common folk.

Apart from the specific type of writing style, scientific journals are also identified by how the articles are structured.

The scientific method, in science, is the pursuit of knowledge through the application of scientific methods of inquiry.

Briefly, the scientific method consists of the following steps:

  1. Observation
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Verification/Experiment
  4. Theory
  5. Law

Although all research of any kind will follow this method of inquiry to a certain extent, it has become synonymous with scientific research.

How Do You Write a Scientific Journal?

When writing a scientific journal article, know that there is specific formatting to be followed.

Contact the editors of the publication to learn about their publication guidelines or learn about their publication requirements yourself over the Internet.

The list below serves as a reference:

  1. Write down the intent of your study.
  2. Clearly mention the target audience of the research. (Scientists, experts in the field, academics, or you want to send it to a publication.)
  3. Look for the editorial guidelines, formatting, length et cetera.
  4. Now, start collecting data.
  5. Organize your findings or results based on your hypothesis.
  6. Next, move on to the method with which you acquired data. Be as detailed as possible about what you did and what you used. Don’t forget to mention the settings you conducted the research in.
  7. The results and Discussions section is often merged as one section header in scientific journal publications. This section highlights the significant findings of the research, its significance in advancing research in that specific topic, and whether or not further research is required.
  8. Write down the Conclusion after the Results and Discussions because you’ll have all the findings of the experiments and the results to reach a conclusion about the validity of your hypothesis.
  9. Now, you begin to write the Introduction, the Abstract, and the Title because these sections offer an overview of your research. Without the data, findings, results, and conclusion, you cannot write an overview.

To further explore how to write a scientific journal article, we also recommend this video by Greg Martin:

Final Remarks

Scientific journals serve a specific purpose, which is to expand the body of scientific knowledge in a given field.

Scientific journals are like records where research articles go for further reference.

Scientific journal articles are written in a specific way and the articles follow the editorial guidelines of the publication in which they are to be published.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered a scientific journal?

A scientific journal is a periodical publication that serves as a platform for researchers to share their work with the scientific community. It contains articles that present original research, review articles, and other forms of scientific communication that have been peer-reviewed and deemed to be of high quality.

Can anyone publish in a scientific journal?

In theory, anyone can submit an article to a scientific journal for consideration. However, the article will undergo a rigorous peer-review process and must meet the journal’s standards for scientific rigor, originality, and quality before being accepted for publication.

Do you need a degree to publish a scientific paper?

No, you do not necessarily need a degree to publish a scientific paper. However, you will need to have conducted original research that meets the standards of the scientific community and be able to present it in a clear and compelling way.