The term academic journal applies to scholarly publications in all fields; this article discusses the aspects common to all academic field journals. Scientific journals and journals of the quantitative social sciences vary in form and function from journals of the humanities and qualitative social sciences; their specific aspects are separately discussed.
The first academic journal was Journal des sçavans (January 1665), followed soon after by Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (March 1665), and Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences (1666). The first fully peer-reviewed journal was Medical Essays and Observations (1733).
The idea of an published with the purpose of " people know what is happening in the Republic of Letters" was first conceived by Eudes de Mazerai in 1663. A publication titled Journal littéraire général was supposed to be published to fulfill that goal, but never was. Denis de Salo, under the pseudonym "Sieur de Hédouville", took Mazerai's idea and obtained a royal privilege from King Louis XIV, granted to Jean Cusson on 8 August 1664, to establish the Journal des sçavans. The journal's first issue was published on 5 January 1665. It was aimed at people of letters, and had four main objectives:
Soon after, the Royal Society established Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in March 1665, and the Académie des Sciences established the Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences in 1666, which more strongly focused on scientific communications. By the end of the 18th century, nearly 500 such periodical had been published, the vast majority coming from Germany (304 periodicals), France (53), and England (34). Several of those publications however, and in particular the German journals, tended to be short lived (under 5 years). A.J. Meadows has estimated the proliferation of journal to reach 10,000 journals in 1950, and 71,000 in 1987. However, Michael Mabe warns that the estimates will vary depending on the definition of what exactly counts as a scholarly publication, but that the growth rate has been "remarkably consistent over time", with an average rates of 3.46% per year from 1800 to 2003.
In 1733, Medical Essays and Observations was established by the Medical Society of Edinburgh as the first fully peer-reviewed journal. Peer review was introduced as an attempt to increase the quality and pertinence of submissions. Other important events in the history of academic journals include the established of Nature (1869) and Science (1880), the establishment of Postmodern Culture in 1990 as the first online-only journal, the foundation of arXiv in 1991 for the dissemination of preprints to be discussed prior to publication in a journal, and the establishment of PLOS One in 2006 as the first megajournal.
There are two kinds of article or paper submissions in academia: solicited, where an individual has been invited to submit work either through direct contact or through a general submissions call, and unsolicited, where an individual submits a work for potential publication without directly being asked to do so. Upon receipt of a submitted article, editors at the journal determine whether to reject the submission outright or begin the process of peer review. In the latter case, the submission becomes subject to review by outside scholars of the editor's choosing who typically remain anonymous. The number of these peer reviewers (or "referees") varies according to each journal's editorial practice – typically, no fewer than two, though sometimes three or more, experts in the subject matter of the article produce reports upon the content, style, and other factors, which inform the editors' publication decisions. Though these reports are generally confidential, some journals and publishers also practice public peer review. The editors either choose to reject the article, ask for a revision and resubmission, or accept the article for publication. Even accepted articles are often subjected to further (sometimes considerable) editing by journal editorial staff before they appear in print. The peer review can take from several weeks to several months.
Review articles, also called "reviews of progress," are checks on the research published in journals. Some journals are devoted entirely to review articles, some contain a few in each issue, and others do not publish review articles. Such reviews often cover the research from the preceding year, some for longer or shorter terms; some are devoted to specific topics, some to general surveys. Some journals are enumerative, listing all significant articles in a given subject; others are selective, including only what they think worthwhile. Yet others are evaluative, judging the state of progress in the subject field. Some journals are published in series, each covering a complete subject field year, or covering specific fields through several years. Unlike original research articles, review articles tend to be solicited submissions, sometimes planned years in advance. They are typically relied upon by students beginning a study in a given field, or for current awareness of those already in the field.