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Sociology 315/316: Methods I and Methods II

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 Peer Reviewed?

Research articles are a type of scholarly source. A scholarly source is one that presents the findings of a study, research or experimentation. Scholarly sources are written by experts in a discipline for other experts in the discipline. Scholarly sources are considered more reliable than most other sources because the results are based on research, not conjecture or opinion.

While journals publish many research based articles (and these articles have gone through peer review), not all research-based articles are published in journals. Research articles also be published by government agencies, by non-governmental organizations, or by non-profit organizations. These research articles do not always go through traditional peer review but may go through a process of internal review before publication.

Examples of Non-Peer Reviewed Research

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.