Peer Review Defined
Peer review is a quality control process used by publications to help ensure that only high quality, methodologically sound information is presented in the publication. In the peer review process, material submitted for publication is sent to individuals who are experts on the topic. Those experts read the material and suggest to the editor whether the material should be rejected, should be accepted, or should be sent back to the authors with a request for revisions.
What are peer-reviewed journals?
Peer-reviewed journals are journals that use the peer review process (defined in the box above). Almost all peer-reviewed journals are scholarly journals.
According to Cornell University Libraries, there are several characteristics that define a scholarly journal:
- They generally have a more “serious” look meaning there’s less emphasis on glossy pages and fancy photographs and more put on text, graphs, and charts.
- Scholarly journals always cite their sources. This is usually in the form of footnotes or bibliographies.
- Articles are written by scholars in that particular field or who have done research in that field.
- The language of the article contains language used in that discipline.
- The author assumes the audience has some prior knowledge of the research or background in that field.
- Lastly, the purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research and make that information available to other people.
Below are some examples of scholarly, peer-reviewed journals:
Characteristics of scholarly articles
In your research, you will find articles from many different sources. The sources might be scholarly (intended to be used by scholars in the field), or they might be popular (intended to be used by the general public). Here are some things you can look for to determine if your article is scholarly:
- Look at the title. The title is usually a brief summary of the article often with specific terminology related to that field.
- Look at the authors. Are the author’s credentials at the beginning of the article or somewhere easily found? This helps establish the author’s authority as an expert in that field.
- Look for an abstract. This is the summary of the article. It helps readers determine whether the article suits their research needs. Sometimes it will even be labeled “Abstract.”
- Look for charts, graphs, tables, or equations. These are often found in scholarly research. Pictures are rare.
- Look for references. You will find these scattered throughout the article as footnotes or endnotes at the end of an article. Authors will usually also include a full reference list at the end of the article. This is a good way to find additional articles on your topic.
If you want to be absolutely sure a journal is peer reviewed, use the database Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory. Look up the journal by title. Titles that are peer reviewed are indicated by the black and white referee's jersey ("refereed" is another term for peer-reviewed.) Note that there may be some parts of the journal (e.g. letters to the editor, book reviews, etc.) that are not peer reviewed.