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EDR 610: Identifying Peer-Reviewed Journals

1. Learning objectives

This is the third and last lesson for the "Finding Credible Sources" assignment. You will learn:

  • The importance of scholarly journals in science and the role of peer-review.
  • Procedures for identifying peer-reviewed journals.

2. Communication and peer-review in science

In science, the vast majority of new facts and discoveries are communicated in scientific articles (also called scientific papers) published in scholarly journals. A scholarly journal is a journal that contains articles authored by experts. The articles published in these journals -- if they report on new research findings -- must be peer-reviewed before being accepted for publication. Peer-review is an important process that helps ensure that only reliable and accurate information is published. Here is how it works: article manuscripts submitted to the journal are sent out to other researchers ("peers") who have relevant knowledge and expertise to evaluate the merits and accuracy of the article. The article will be published only if these experts agree that the article is high-quality. The peers who evaluate articles are called referees. Sometimes you will hear the phrases scholarly journal, refereed journal, and peer-reviewed journal used interchangeably. Take a look at the diagram below to get a better idea about how scientific information is generated, peer-reviewed, stored, and retrieved.

 

Peer Review Process

 

3. Learn more about peer-review

For college-level research, you might be asked to cite only scholarly or peer-reviewed articles for your research projects. Watch the video below to learn more about the peer-review process and why it is important. (Thanks to Western University for creating this video.)

4. Determining whether a journal is peer-reviewed

There are two ways to determine whether a journal has a peer-review process in place.

1) Check the journal's website.  You can usually find a journal's website quickly by doing a Google search on the journal's title. Once you find the journal's website, information about peer-review is not always obvious. Look for a link that provides general information about the journal, or look for a link to author guidelines that might explain a peer-review process to prospective authors. 

 

2) Check Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory (i.e. Ulrich's). While you are an NAU student, you will have access to this resource. After you graduate you can still check for peer-review information on a journal's website, as shown above. You can find Ulrich's by using the link above or navigating to it on the Cline Library website by clicking the Databases by title link, and then typing in Ulrichsweb. To use Ulrich's, enter a journal title, and once you've found a record for that journal, look at the symbols on the left to see if there is a symbol for a referee shirt like those worn by sports referees:

Referee Shirt

Finding this symbol that means the journal is refereed, which is another way of saying it is peer-reviewed.

 

5. Has every item in a scholarly journal been peer-reviewed?

Not every item that appears in a scholarly journal has been peer-reviewed. Consult the table below for more information.

Peer-reviewed: Not peer-reviewed:
  • articles reporting on original research that include results, data, etc. (see box 6 below which explains primary research articles)
  • articles providing a review of the current state of research (these are called review articles)
  • letters to the editor
  • book reviews
  • news
  • comments
Why are these articles peer-reviewed? The stakes are much higher to get information correct when reporting on new and original research, or summarizing research. Other researchers are going to use and build upon the data and information reported in those articles, so it's important that it is accurate. Why are these items not peer-reviewed? These items represent opinions or other lower-stakes types of information. 

6. Understanding how to recognize a primary research article

In science, articles that report on new research are called primary research articles or primary sources, and they have a structured organization that includes the following elements (or minor variations of these core elements):

Elements of a Research Article

To make sure you are reading an original research article (a primary source), check whether the article is divided into sections similar to those above. Also, look for data (tables, diagrams, charts, etc.), usually in the results section. The presense of data usually means the authors are sharing the results of original research that they conducted.

7. Understanding the difference between scholarly and popular sources

Magazines and newspapers are considered popular sources rather than scholarly sources, and they are not peer reviewed. Watch the video below for an excellent overview of the differences between scholarly and popular sources. (Thanks to Peabody Library at Vanderbilt University for creating this video.)