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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:
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.)
While several databases such as 1Search or Academic Search Premier give you the option to choose a checkbox to "limit to articles from peer-reviewed publications," these checkboxes are not fool proof. Use at least two out of the following three methods on this page to determine if the articles you have found are peer-reviewed. Two of the options require that you either check the journal's website or use the database to find out if the journal uses the peer review process to edit articles. Another options requires that you check that the article itself is peer reviewed and reporting on original research by looking for specific characteristics of the article.
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.
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.
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.
This will take you to the journal information. At the bottom, you can see that this journal is peer-reviewed.
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.
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.
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