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A periodical is a series of publications that appear at a regular schedule. Magazines are a common example.

Periodicals are published on a predetermined schedule that the reader is also aware of. This could be monthly, yearly, quarterly, or weekly. When referencing periodicals, it’s important to know the date, volume, and issue. This is the same as citing the publication information for a book or article. 

When creating a periodical, it’s important to understand volumes and issues as well. The word “volume” refers to the number of years the publication has circulated. “Issue” is used to describe how many times that periodical has been published during that year. For example, if a periodical began in 2010 and it’s now March 2020, the periodical would be labeled as “volume 10, issue 3.” The issue number would change throughout the year, but the volume number wouldn’t shift until the next year. 

Periodical pronunciation: peer-ee-ah-deh-cuhl

Periodical definition and examples

Periodical Definition

A periodical is a publication that is released on a regular basis. It comes out once a month, a week, a year, a quarter, etc. These publications can feature anything from local news to literature, music reviews, essays, scholarly articles, and more.

Periodicals often play host to a series of publications. For example, a story might be published in sections within five issues of a periodical. Meaning, that readers have to wait for the next issue to read the next section of the story or book. This is an uncommon way of publishing literature today but, it was commonly used during the Victorian period. Charles Dickens’ writing was often released this way. 

Definite and Indefinite Periodicals 

There are two types of periodicals, definite and indefinite.

The first is a periodical that has a set end date. For example, an independent press might decide to put out a series of ten magazines on a single subject. They know before the first issue comes out that there are only going to be ten. It has a definite end date. 

Indefinite periodicals have no end date. For example, a magazine that continues month after month. These may at some point run out of funding and have to be ended but, when it began, there was no set end date in mind. 

Types of Periodicals 

Periodicals can come out on the following schedules: 

  • Daily: once per business day 
  • Weekly: every week 
  • Biweekly: every two weeks 
  • Semi-monthly: twice per month
  • Bimonthly: every two months 
  • Quarterly: every three months
  • Annually: once a year 
  • Biennially: once per two years

These are a few, although not all the possible schedules periodicals might follow. 

Examples of Periodicals 

  • National Geographic 
  • Life magazine 
  • New England Journal of Medicine
  • Poetry 
  • Good Housekeeping
  • Reader’s Digest 

Literature Published in Periodicals  

The Pick-Wick Papers by Charles Dickens 

The Pick-Wick Papers is one of the best-known examples of a literary work published within a periodical. It was published in nineteen issues over a span of twenty months. There were cliffhanger endings that helped readers maintain their interest in reading the next section of the novel. This novel’s serialization helped to repopularize the method of publication. Here is a quote:

It is the fate of most men who mingle with the world, and attain even the prime of life, to make many real friends, and lose them in the course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the full extent of their misfortunes; for they are required to furnish an account of them besides.

The Pick-Wick Papers was an incredible success. It was read throughout England and inspired bootleg versions of the story. 

Read Charles Dickens’ poetry

The Green Mile by Stephen King 

This is a contemporary example of a novel that was published in segments. It was published between March and August of 1996. It was released in six low-priced novels, the first titled The Two Dead Girls, followed by four more, until the final volume, Coffey on the Mile, was released. Here is a quote: 

I’m rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I’m tired of bein on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never havin no buddy to go on with or tell me where we’s comin from or goin to or why. I’m tired of people bein ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I’m tired of all the times I’ve wanted to help and couldn’t. I’m tired of bein in the dark. Mostly it’s the pain. There’s too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can’t.

The Green Mile was later compiled into a single novel, the way that the book is most commonly read today.

Explore more Stephen King books.


What does periodical mean? 

The term “periodical” refers to a publication that is released several times throughout the year. These include magazines and journals—for example, National Geographic or Life.

What is an example of a periodical?

Anything released on a fixed schedule is usually an example of a periodical. Scientific journals are a good example, as are magazines. 

Can a periodical be online?

Yes, it can be online. But only if it is indeed released at regular intervals. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Epistolary: a book made up of a series of documents, usually letters, diary entires, or newspaper clippings.
  • Chapbook: a small book that’s published with around 40 pages. The tradition arose in 16th century Europe, and it’s still popular today.
  • Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other. 
  • Dilemma: a problem or conflict that has more than one possible solution. There are always important consequences one has to contend with.
  • Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.

Other Resources 

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