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Peer Review

The peer review process and how to find peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles.

What is Peer Review?

A SmartArt graphic showing a much-simplified editorial process. Gray box with an icon of a typewriter: "An article manuscript is submitted to a journal. If accepted: The journal editor sends it to peer reviewers. If rejected: The process ends." Red box with an icon of a crowd speaking: "Expert reviewers evaluate the manuscript (background, methods, findings, overall value to the field, etc.) The author revises the manuscript based on the reviews." Blue box with an icon of a paper: Following the journal's editorial process, the article is published"Peer Review

 

Definition

An editorial process characteristic of scholarly research in which experts in a field, sometimes called referees, are assigned to review and evaluate submitted article drafts (known as manuscripts). Peer review is meant to ensure that published literature is credible and adds something useful to the understanding of the topic.

 

Who Reviews & How

Peer reviewers are typically scholars working in colleges or research institutions. Peer reviewers generally perform these reviews voluntarily, as serving as a reviewer shows that a scholar has been recognized as an expert, which can be beneficial in the promotion and tenure process. However, some argue that peer reviewing should be compensated given the amount of time and work involved.**

Reviewers seek to ensure the article includes a thorough background, accurately utilized methods, and supportable conclusions. Reviewing often occurs semi-anonymously, in which the reviewer is aware of the author's identity but the reviewer's identity is kept hidden from the author, or fully anonymously, in which neither the reviewer nor the author are aware of the other's identity. Following the submitted reviews, the author then revises their draft accordingly before it's accepted for publication.

 

Is It Peer-Reviewed?

While peer-reviewed journals are scholarly sources, not all scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. See Is It Peer-Reviewed? for guidance on determining a scholarly journal's peer review status.

 

Issues with Peer Review

Peer review as a process has been a regular component of scholarly research since the mid-20th century. As with any system in which human judgment is concerned, scholarly publishing and the peer review process are subject to bias in terms of what gets published and what does not.*

Some in the academic field have also debated in recent years about the labor of peer review and whether reviewers should be paid for their time.**

A sample of the discussion about these issues can be found in the articles listed below.


* Peer review and bias

Baldwin, M. (2018). Scientific autonomy, public accountability, and the rise of “peer review” in the Cold War United States. Isis, 109(3), 538–558. https://doi.org/10.1086/700070

Kwon, D. (2022). The rise of citational justice: How scholars are making references fairer. Nature, 603(7902), 568–571. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00793-1

** Paying for peer review

Brainard, J. (2021, March 1). The $450 question: Should journals pay peer reviewers? ScienceInsider. https://www.science.org/content/article/450-question-should-journals-pay-peer-reviewers

When You Need Peer-Reviewed Sources

How can you make sure a source is peer-reviewed?

This is partly a question about identifying sources, as the peer review process is a characteristic of scholarly (or academic) journal articles. Research articles published in scholarly journals are usually peer reviewed. The only items published in a scholarly journal that are not going to have gone through peer review will be letters to the editor, editorials, book reviews, and the like.

However, on occasion you will also come across a scholarly journal that does not use peer review, or you might also want to make sure about the peer review status of a publication. One good method is to check the publication information in Library databases. For example, Academic Search Premier and other EBSCOhost databases as well as those from ProQuest include publication details for every journal, magazine, newspaper and other source they list in their collections.


EBSCOhost/Academic Search Premier

Click images to enlarge.

Note that your list of search results will include icons that indicate the type of document, as seen in the image below:

Titled "Academic Search Premier (EBSCOhost)", including a screenshot of a list of results with red arrows pointing to the icons for Scholarly Journal and Periodical, and a gray box at the base of those arrows that reads "Icons Determined by publication type"

 

When you have clicked into a document, pay attention to identifying characteristics such as the title and abstracts to learn more about the document. While these characteristics are helpful in figuring out whether you've found a peer-reviewed source, you can also click on the publication title for more details about the journal, including peer review status.

Titled "Academic Journal Article / Academic Search Premier"; an image of an article record with a gray box near the title that reads "Long title that tells you exactly what the paper is about", a red box around the journal title with a red arrow pointing to another image of the periodical information, including an arrow pointing to the small text that reads "Peer reviewed: yes"; and a gray box near the bottom of the article image that reads "Abstract that summarizes full paper / Written by author, required by journal"

 

Titled "Periodical Article / Academic Search Premier" with an image of an article record, a gray box near the article title that reads "Short title that wants to catch your attention", a red box around the journal title with a red arrow pointing to the publication details and a red arrow pointing to the line that says "peer review: no", and a gray box near the bottom of the article that reads "Brief abstract Probably written by a recapper when the article was added to the database"


ProQuest

Click image to enlarge.

Similar to EBSCOhost, ProQuest gives you a descriptor to help identify source type, as well as links to more information about the publications.

Titled "ProQuest / Scholarly Journal Article" with three images: one of a list of search results with a red box around the term "Scholarly Journal" and a gray box next to it that reads "Descriptor", and a red arrow next to the article title that points to the second box (top aligned) with the article information and a red box around the publication title that points downward to a red box with the publication details and a red arrow pointing out the line that reads "Peer reviewed."


Still unsure? Ask a librarian!

 

Identifying Source Types

 

Type of information

Where found

Examples

Who writes it

What they do

Why they do it

(in addition to it being their job)

Scholarly or academic research

Scholarly journals

Nature; Journal of Wildlife Diseases

Conference proceedings

International Wolf Symposium 2022

Scholarly books

Wolves on the Hunt (Mech, et al. 2015)

Researchers at academic institutions

Corporate research and development departments 

Government agencies

Original experiments

Reviews of the field

To inform those in their (sometimes very narrow) field

Academic promotion

Trade news

Trade journals/magazines

Forest Machine Magazine
“Written by loggers for loggers”

Forestry Journal
“Committed to supporting the forestry industry since 1994”

Professional journalists working for trade associations

Practitioners

News, trends and current practices in a field or profession

To inform those on the job

News and features

Newspapers

New York Times (Wolves topic)

Magazines

National Geographic

Professional journalists

Op-ed writers

Feature writers

Current events

Opinion pieces

To inform the general public

Subject Guide

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Vicky Ludas Orlofsky
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Research Services Department
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