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H 312: HIV/AIDS and STIs in Modern Society

What Does Peer Review Mean?

[Source: Library How-To: Scholarly vs. Popular Articles]

So, what is "peer review"? This phrase refers to a quality-control process used by many academic journals.  Authors who are doing research submit a paper they have written to a journal. The journal editor then sends the article to the author's peers (researchers and scholars who are in the same discipline) for review. The reviewers determine if the article should be published based on the quality of the research. They evaluate this quality based on a number of factors, including:

  • Did the researchers use appropriate methods?
  • Is the research question important?
  • Is the data valid?
  • Are the authors' conclusions reasonable, based on the data?
  • Is the research original - does it add to our knowledge of the topic?

They do not repeat the experiment or study to see if the results were accurate. This process is important because it validates the research and gives it a sort of "seal of approval" from others in the research community.

Watch this video for a more in-depth overview of how peer review works (NCSU) (5:11 min.)

 

Are All Research Articles the Same?

Not all research articles are the same.The following types of articles are usually lumped under the heading "research articles"  but actually vary in significant ways.

  • Empirical research articles: Articles that describe the results of empirical research - researched based on experimentation or observation (what most people typically think of when they think of research). These articles usually have a standard "research paper" format: Abstract, Introduction/Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusion, References.
  • Literature review articles: Articles that summarize, evaluate, and interpret an existing group of empirical research articles on a given topic. These articles generally do not have the standard research paper format but are typically organized by the themes present in the body of existing empirical research reviewed.
  • Meta-analysis articles: Articles that present the statistical analysis of the combined results of a carefully selected existing group of empirical research articles. These articles usually have a standard "research paper" format (see Empirical research articles above), though they are not empirical research.

Article Structure is Clue to Peer Review

Scholarly, peer-reviewed, original (empirical) research articles are research articles that have been evaluated and approved by other experts in the discipline (the process of peer-reivew) before being accepted for publication in a journal. They almost all follow a predictable pattern and contain the following elements:

1. AUTHOR:  The author(s) is always listed with the credentials that identify the author's expertise, such as university or research affiliation or the author's academic degree. Contrast this to news articles where the author may or may not be identified (and affiliation or academic credentials are not identified).

2. CONTENT:  There is an abstract at the beginning of the article which summarizes the content. The article almost always follows the pattern of having these sections: introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. News articles, scientific letters and book reviews do not follow this pattern. 

3. ORIGINAL DATA:  Usually, original data will be presented in as charts and graphs illustrating the results of experiments. Contrast this to a news feature, which pulls together results and ideas from other researchers' work. EXCEPTION - Reviews can also be peer reviewed. While they do summarize other researchers' work, authors of a review also add their own summary and repackage the work in a new way to help demonstrate something that is original.

4. LANGUAGE:  The article language tends to be formal and technical, and is particular to the discipline in which it is written.  It is geared to other researchers in the same subject.  Contrast this with popular articles that are written at an informal and basic level for easy understanding by the general public.

 

Use the Journal Website

One of the best places to find out if a journal is peer-reviewed is to go to the journal's website (just Google the journal title).

Most publishers have a website for a journal that tells you about the journal, how authors can submit an article, and what the process is for getting published.

If you find the journal's website, look for the link that says "information for authors," "instructions for authors," "submitting an article" or something similar.

Journal peer-review statement

Use the Databases

Another place to find out if the journal is peer-reviewed is to use one of the online databases.

For example, if you know that articles from your journal appear in the Academic Search Premier database, you can search for the journal in the database and learn more about it.

Go to Academic Search Premier and click on Publications at the top of the screen.

Search by publication

Enter the name of the journal and click browse. If the journal is included in the database, you will see it in the list of results.

Search for the publication

This will take you to the journal information. At the bottom, you can see that this journal is peer-reviewed.

Peer-reviewed journal

Academic Search Premier does not include all journals so the one you are looking for may not be listed here. You can also try Academic OneFile and browse for the publication.

Evaluate Your Source

  • Does the source have a bibliography? This can lead you to other sources.
  • Is there an author listed as part of the citation? Judging authority can be difficult without an author.
  • Is the journal refereed (peer reviewed)?
  • How old is the source? Will this matter for your topic? Currency of information can be important. Some aspects of a topic may need currency more than others.
  • What other terminology is being used either by the author or by the database? Keep an eye out for other words you can use in your search statements.
  • Do the OSU Libraries own the journal (either in print or electronically)? If we don't own it, it will take more time to get your hands on the source.