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What's Peer Review?

Distinguishing Scholarly Articles

What are peer-reviewed (sometimes called refereed) journal articles?  

Articles that are reviewed or critiqued by the author’s peers (other experts in the field).  Peer-review is a quality control process.  It’s done to improve the article & make sure it is of sufficient quality to be published in a scholarly journal.


What are the characteristics of a scholarly journal article?
  • In-depth research/analysis/original research that adds to the knowledge of the field.  There are two types of articles:
    • Research articles: The author(s) have done original research or deep analysis of a topic and are writing up their findings.
    • Review articles: The author(s) are critically reviewing other people's original research to synthesize what is known about the issue. These articles are extremely useful to understanding your topic. They contain summaries of all the key research done within a certain timeframe and you'll have a detailed literature review you can use to track down the original research.
  • Long: Usually quite long (10-30+ pages).  It depends on the field or discipline they are published.
  • Author has a high level of education (PhD)/experience/expertise.  Contact info., credentials and biography of the author is usually given.
  • Usually written for a specific audience with a high level of education, specialized skill-set or extensive experience in the field (e.g. not meant for the general public).  Often uses specialized language/terminology.
  • Has a bibliography/works cited or in-text citations.  Why?  It avoids plagiarism and it backs up the authors claims/assertions by citing other experts in the field.  Some articles also offer a review of literature in the field.
How do I know the articles from a database are peer-reviewed?

Many of our databases have a way to check a box to limit to scholarly, peer-reviewed journals when searching.  It's not always a fool-proof method, so you'll have to evaluate the specific article using the criteria discussed on this page.

The library database search results often help you to identify the type of article you have found. In the EBSCOhost databases (Academic Search Complete, SocINDEX with Full Text, etc.), it will label peer-reviewed journals as Academic Journals (as opposed to News or Periodicals).


What's the difference between scholarly versus popular sources?

A chart comparing the various sources.