Understanding What “Peer-Reviewed” Means
A peer-reviewed (sometimes called refereed) journal is one in which an article goes through an external review process to assist in determining whether or not it should be published. Specialists or scholars in the same discipline review the article prior to publication to evaluate its quality of scholarship, research methods, conclusions, contribution to the field, etc. The article is revised based on feedback from the reviewers before it is published.
Scholarly or academic journals are used to share the research with other scholars or researchers in the same field. Not every scholarly journal uses the peer-review process, but many research databases use “peer-reviewed” and “scholarly” (or “academic”) as synonyms.
Many research assignments require sources that are peer-reviewed. Most of the time, this just means that your professor wants you to use scholarly books and articles instead of newspapers, magazines, websites, and other non-academic sources. You should check with your professor about whether you need to verify whether every source you use goes through the peer-review process, or if any source that is considered academic or scholarly would be acceptable.
For general principles of how to evaluate sources, see our Evaluating Sources tutorial.
Are books peer-reviewed?
Although many books go through some type of review process, most books are not clearly identified as peer-reviewed or non-peer-reviewed. If a professor asks you to use “peer-reviewed books” for a research assignment, ask him/her whether books that are considered scholarly are acceptable.
When choosing books to use in a research paper, look for ones that include footnotes or bibliographies citing their information sources. Books without citations for their sources would generally not be considered scholarly. You can also look for reviews of the book in scholarly journals, which will usually provide a descriptive evaluation about the quality of scholarship in the book.
Limiting Searches to Peer Reviewed
Many of the library’s databases allow you to limit search results to peer-reviewed/scholarly articles.
From the library homepage, click on the arrow to the left of the main search box. Select the Articles tab, then Advanced Search. On the Advanced Search page, check the box for “Only return peer-reviewed articles.”
On the EBSCOhost database homepage, click the “Search Options” link underneath the main search box. Then check the box for “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.” Some EBSCO databases might have slightly different wording, such as “Peer Reviewed.”
On the ProQuest database homepage, check the box for “Peer reviewed” underneath the main search box.
Verifying Peer-Reviewed Status
The library’s databases often provide information about whether a particular article or journal is peer-reviewed, scholarly, or academic. However, database information is not always completely accurate, so if you are unsure about a particular source, you may want to verify whether or not it is really peer-reviewed.
Example: The Journal of Accountancy is labeled as “Peer Reviewed” by the Business Source Complete database. However, the journal’s website indicates that although articles go through an editorial review process, the content of the journal itself is not even scholarly/academic.
Use Google or another search engine to find the journal’s website. You should be able to find it if you search for the journal’s title. On the journal website, look for the editorial policy or author information page. The page might be titled something like “Submission Guidelines” or “Instructions for Authors.” The information should tell you whether articles for the journal go through a peer-review process.
Note that peer-reviewed journals will sometimes contain editorials, book reviews, and other types of articles that may not be subject to the same review process.
Talk to your professor or a librarian for help if you’re not sure whether a source is acceptable for your research assignment.
Adapted from the guide at University of Central Florida Libraries.