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What is a Trade Journal?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A technical or trade journal is a publication that is targeted to people in a very specific industry. For people outside the industry, such a journal can seem boring or incomprehensible, while people in the industry use it to keep up on developments in the industry, connect with potential employers, and network with suppliers. Most industries have trade journals, with publications that cover huge industries like biotechnology to much smaller and specialized industries such as landscape architecture.

One of the defining features of a trade journal is a high volume of industry-specific advertising. In a teaching journal, for example, ads for products that are designed to help teachers may be widely scattered throughout the journal, sometimes taking the form of multiple page layouts which masquerade as articles. A publication also usually has notices of job openings, along with brief articles on leaders in the industry and recent developments that may be of interest.

By contrast, some industries also publish peer reviewed journals, which are collections of original research that has been evaluated by an independent panel of experts. The sciences boast a huge number of peer reviewed journals, allowing researchers to share their work with other people in the community and to solicit criticism. Sometimes the line between a trade and a peer reviewed journal may be slim, with some peer reviewed publications having a high percentage of advertising.

When researching a trade or industry, a trade journal can sometimes be a useful starting point, especially if the researcher has a glossary of trade terms handy. People who keep an eye on various industries often subscribe to these journals so that they are alerted to developments in the field; for example, researchers who study food politics and the food supply are often interested to learn about new preservation methods, food hybrids, or innovative approaches to marketing campaigns.

Because a trade journal is so specialized, such journals are usually not readily available at bookstores, newsstands, and other places that the average person might turn to for printed media. The best source is often the publisher or a professional association that caters to members of the industry. Some publishers will send out issues for free to people in the industry, or journalists who request them, and a subscription is often included with membership in a professional organization.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Acracadabra — On Apr 27, 2011

@CaithnessCC - That sounds like a really thoughtful gift for your sister. I subscribe to several business trade journals in the hospitality field and they all have something to offer.

The best way to decide is to think about what your sister does, and what she has ambitions to do in the future. Some focus on one thing, like wine or recipes. Others would be more useful if she has ambitions to move into management or run her own business one day.

By CaithnessCC — On Apr 25, 2011

My sister works in the catering industry and I'd like to buy her a subscription to a restaurant trade journal for her birthday. I'm pretty sure she'll love this kind of gift as she's always reading cooking magazines. I'm just a bit confused about which type to go for. Has anyone got any tips?

By Penzance356 — On Apr 24, 2011

If you are looking for work it can really help to read some online trade journals or magazines. They are a cheaper alternative to the printed trade publications, and may give you a bit of an advantage at the interview stage.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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