Question of the Week: Peer-reviewed Articles

February 27, 2009 – 2:28 PM

In a recent chat, I was asked to look over two articles that a student had found and let the student know if they were “peer-reviewed”; the student said “review articles” were specifically not allowed for the assignment.

“Peer review” is a longstanding tradition in scholarly publishing.  Scholars do a research project, write an article, and submit it to a scholarly journal.  The editor of the journal then sends a copy of the article to several other researchers (the author’s “peers”) in the same field, asking for their opinion about the article, because much of scholarship is so specialized that the editor doesn’t have the expertise necessary to assess the article’s quality.  The reviewers are asked to comment on the article – is it well-written? on an important question? was the research done well? are the conclusions made supported by the evidence presented?  If the reviewers agree that the article is good, it is usually published.

Most research articles in scholarly journals have been through this process of peer review.  But some things in scholarly journals have not – book reviews, essays or thought pieces, letters to the editor of the journal, and other scholarly writings that do not directly report original research.  “Review articles” may appear in scholarly journals, but they summarize the results of multiple existing studies (i.e. all studies from the 1990s about the use of a medication for childhood asthma) as opposed to reporting on the results of a new study conducted by the authors.

Finding Peer-Reviewed Articles

Some article databases in GALILEO let you limit your search to only peer-reviewed articles – look for a checkbox as you begin your search.  Any database branded EBSCO allows you to do this.

If the database doesn’t help, you’ll need to use critical thinking skills.  Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the journal a scholarly one?
  • Is the article reporting the results of a research study done by the authors?
  • Is the article fairly long, with many footnotes or bibliographic references?
  • Do the authors have an academic affiliation next to their names?
  • Does the first page of the article have a little note that says something like “submitted June 1; revised July 15″?  (This almost always means the article was revised and resubmitted after a peer review.)

If you aren’t sure, ask a librarian!

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