Volume & Issue Numbers Demystified

"What is a periodical?" video from Touro Libraries' forthcoming Savvy Researcher Video Series
What is a periodical?” video from Touro Libraries’ Savvy Researcher Video Series

If you’ve done research papers in the past, you’ve probably had at least one professor ask you to cite something called an academic journal article (or three). But what exactly is it that your instructors are looking for?

Well, to answer that question, first we have to talk about what librarians call “periodical literature.” This is just a fancy collective name for magazines, newspapers, and journals which are published on a recurring, periodic basis, perhaps daily, weekly, or monthly. Individual issues of an academic journal are usually identified by volume and issue numbers. While you might browse through the September 2015 issue of Rolling Stone at the dentist, you’re more likely to find Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 122, Issue 3, on the shelves of your college library.

All of the different numbers in journal article citations can be a little tricky to keep straight though, so let’s break it down another way. Think of your favorite TV show. Got it? Ok. So, I’m going to go with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In this case, the show had 7 yearly seasons of 22-ish episodes each. In terms of periodicals, that would be 7 yearly volumes of 22 issues each.

If my friend wanted to watch the silent episode of Buffy, I could direct him to season 4, episode 10. If I wanted to quote Patrick Shade’s scholarly analysis of the episode’s philosophical implications on communication theory in an essay, however, I would direct readers to Volume 6, Issue 1 of The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association in my citation.

On the topic of academic jargon, it’s worth mentioning that the opposite of a periodical in the library world is sometimes called a monograph — but in the rest of the world, we just call them books. To continue our analogy, books are more like movies. Sure, there might be a sequel or two – or new editions, in book terms – or it might be part of a series, but they are still essentially self-contained entities.

So now that you know that journal articles are identified by the journal they’re published in, and the particular volume and issue it appears in, hopefully, it will make them easier to identify and cite!

Visit the library homepage to choose a database to begin your search, or check out the Student Services page for more research help, like the difference between scholarly vs. popular periodicals.

Contributed by Chelsea DeGlopper, Former Instructional Design Librarian, Midtown

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