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Evaluating Resources: Peer Review

What is peer review?

The term peer review can be confusing, since in some of your courses you may be asked to review the work of your peers. When we talk about peer-reviewed journal articles, this has nothing to do with your peers!

Peer-reviewed journals, also called refereed journals, are journals that use a specific scholarly review process to try to ensure the accuracy and reliability of published articles. When an article is submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication, the journal sends the article to other scholars/experts in that field and has them review the article for accuracy and reliability.

Find out more about peer review with our Peer Review Guide:

Types of peer review

Single blind

In this process, the names of the reviewers are not known to the author(s). The reviewers do know the name of the author(s).

Double blind

Here, neither reviewers or authors know each other's names.

Open

In the open review process, both reviewers and authors know each other's names.

 

What about editorial review?

Journals also use an editorial review process. This is not the same as peer review. In an editorial review process an article is evaluated for style guidelines and for clarity. Reviewers here do not look at technical accuracy or errors in data or methodology, but instead look at grammar, style, and whether an article is well written.

What is the difference between scholarly and peer review?

While not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed, all peer-reviewed journals are scholarly.

  • Things that are written for a scholarly or academic audience are considered scholarly writing.
  • Peer-reviewed journals are a part of the larger category of scholarly writing.
  • Scholarly writing includes many resources that are not peer reviewed, such as books and dissertations.

Scholarly writing does not come with a label that says scholarly. You will need to evaluate the resource to see if it is aimed at a scholarly audience, if it is reporting research, theories or other types of information important to scholars, and if it is documenting and citing sources used to help authenticate the research done.

The standard peer review process only applies to journals. While scholarly writing has certainly been edited and reviewed, peer review is a specific process only used by peer-reviewed journals. Books and dissertations may be scholarly, but are not considered peer reviewed.

How do I locate or verify peer-reviewed articles?

The peer review process is initiated by the journal publisher before an article is even published. Nowhere in the article will it tell you whether or not the article has gone through a peer review process.

You can locate peer-reviewed articles in the Library databases, typically by checking a limiter box.

 

You can verify whether a journal uses a peer review process by using Ulrich's Periodicals Directory.

What about resources that are not peer-reviewed?

Limiting your search to peer review is a way that you can ensure that you're looking at scholarly journal articles, and not popular or trade publications. Because peer-reviewed articles have been vetted by experts in the field, they are viewed as being held to a higher standard, and therefore are considered to be a high quality source. Professors often prefer peer-reviewed articles because they are considered to be of higher quality.

There are times, though, when the information you need may not be available in a peer-reviewed article.

  • You may need to find original work on a theory that was first published in a book.
  • You may need to find very current statistical data that comes from a government website.
  • You may need background information that comes from a scholarly encyclopedia.

You will want to evaluate these resources to make sure that they are the best source for the information you need.

Note: If you are required for an assignment to find information from a peer-reviewed journal, then you will not be able to use non-peer-reviewed sources such as books, dissertations, or government websites. It's always best to clarify any questions over assignments with your professor.