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ES 215 Research Methods Class Guide


Your professor would like you to use peer-reviewed journal articles for this assignment, but what does peer review really mean?

Peer reviewed journals (also called scholarly or refereed journals) are a key information source for your college papers and projects. They are written by scholars for scholars and are a reliable source for information on a topic or discipline. These journals can be found either in the library's online databases, or in the library's local holdings. This guide will help you identify whether a journal is peer reviewed and show you tips on finding them.

Peer Review Graphic


What is Peer Review?

Peer review is a process where an article is verified by a group of scholars before it is published.

When an author submits an article to a peer reviewed journal, the editor passes out the article to a group of scholars in the related field (the author's peers). They review the article, making sure that its sources are reliable, the information it presents is consistent with the research, etc. Only after they give the article their "okay" is it published.

The peer review process makes sure that only quality research is published: research that will further the scholarly work in the field.

When you use articles from peer reviewed journals, someone has already reviewed the article and said that it is reliable, so you don't have to take the steps to evaluate the author or his/her sources. The hard work is already done for you!

Identifying Peer Review Journals

If you have the physical journal, you can look for the following features to identify if it is peer reviewed.

Masthead (The first few pages): includes information on the submission process, the editorial board, and maybe even a phrase stating that the journal is "peer reviewed."

Publisher: Peer reviewed journals are typically published by professional organizations or associations (like the American Chemical Society). They also may be affiliated with colleges/universities.

Graphics: Typically there either won't be any images at all, or the few charts/graphs are only there to supplement the text information. They are usually in black and white.

Authors: The authors are listed at the beginning of the article, usually with information on their affiliated institutions, or contact information like email addresses.

Abstracts: At the beginning of the article the authors provide an extensive abstract detailing their research and any conclusions they were able to draw.

Terminology: Since the articles are written by scholars for scholars, they use uncommon terminology specific to their field and typically do not define the words used.

Citations: At the end of each article is a list of citations/reference. These are provided for scholars to either double check their work, or to help scholars who are researching in the same general area.

Advertisements: Peer reviewed journals rarely have advertisements. If they do the ads are for professional organizations or conferences, not for national products.

Identifying Articles from Databases

When you are looking at an article in an online database, identifying that it comes from a peer reviewed journal can be more difficult. You do not have access to the physical journal to check areas like the masthead or advertisements, but you can use some of the same basic principles.

Points you may want to keep in mind when you are evaluating an article from a database:

  • A lot of databases provide you with the option to limit your results to only those from peer reviewed or refereed journals. Choosing this option means all of your results will be from those types of sources.
  • When possible, choose the PDF version of the article's full text. Since this is exactly as if you photocopied from the journal, you can get a better idea of its layout, graphics, advertisements, etc.
  • Even in an online database you still should be able to check for author information, abstracts, terminology, and citations.

Still Unsure as to the Journal Peer Review Status?

Use Ulrichsweb. Ulrichsweb is a database used by librarians and scholars to help understand that status of scholarly/popular journals and magazines. In order to check whether a title is peer reviewed through Ulrichsweb, simply type the journal name into the search bar and look for the "referee" symbol.

For example, the journal "Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology" yields this result:

There are two versions (though the have the same content), both listing that they are peer-reviewed with the "referee" symbol. The other symbols that are included represent other information about the journal. The "list" symbol represents the presence of a table of contents (which is important in print journals). The "e" represents an electronic journal. The "lock" symbol represents whether the article is openly available. Finally, the "star" means that the journal has been reviewed by librarians and has been deemed credible.