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What Does "Peer-Reviewed" Mean?

You've probably been asked to use peer-reviewed sources in your research assignments. What does this mean?

Most scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. An article published in a peer-reviewed journal has gone through a rigorous evaluation process. A group of subject experts (the peers in “peer review”) have evaluated (the review in “peer review”) the evidence and conclusions and determined that the article is worth sharing.

Many library databases provide a checkbox, or filter, to help you narrow your search results to peer-reviewed articles. But even when you use a peer-review filter, you still need to critically evaluate your sources. Peer-reviewed articles are not beyond reproach; new evidence and alternative perspectives are advancing our knowledge all the time. Furthermore, within the pages of most peer-review journals, you’ll find articles that are not peer-reviewed. For example, most book reviews and commentaries are not peer-reviewed.

This page provides tips on what to look for when you’re trying to decide whether or not to use a source.

What Is a Scholarly Article?

It is important to be able to distinguish between scholarly journal articles and popular magazine articles. Most of the research papers you write will require that you use scholarly journal articles. Below are criteria to consider when differentiating between journals and magazines.

Criteria Scholarly Journal Popular Magazine
Example Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Time magazine
Content In-depth, primary account of original findings written by the researcher(s); very specific information, with the goal of scholarly communication. Secondary discussion of someone else's research; may include personal narrative or opiniongeneral information, purpose is to entertain or inform.
Author Author's credentials are provided; usually a scholar or specialist with subject expertise. Author is frequently a journalist paid to write articles, may or may not have subject expertise.
Audience Scholars, researchers, and students. General public; the interested non-specialist.
Language Specialized terminology or jargon of the field; requires expertise in subject area. Vocabulary in general usage; easily understandable to most readers.
Graphics Graphs, charts, and tables; very few advertisements and photographs. Graphs, charts and tables; lots of glossy advertisements and photographs.
Layout and Organization Structured; includes the article abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results (evidence), discussion, conclusion, and bibliography. Informal; may include non-standard formatting. May not present supporting evidence or a conclusion.
Accountability Articles are evaluated by peer-reviewers*or referees who are experts in the field; edited for content, format, and style. Articles are evaluated by editorial staff, not experts in the field; edited for format and style.
References Required. Quotes and facts are verifiable. Rare. Little, if any, information about source materials is given.
Paging Page numbers are consecutive throughout the volume. Each issue begins with page 1.
Other Examples Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, History of Education Quarterly, Almost anything with Journal in the title. Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Ladies Home Journal, Cooking Light, Discover

Acknowledgement: This is adapted from one created by North Carolina State University Libraries. They, in turn, modified a document originally created by librarians at the University of Michigan Shapiro Undergraduate Library.