Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Aug 22, 2014     Views: 20479

Essentially, 'peer review' is an academic term for quality control.  Papers in peer-reviewed journals were closely inspected before they were accepted for publication--generally by a panel of reviewers who are experts on the topic (that is, the author’s professional peers…hence the term peer review).  Reviewers look for proper use of research methods, significance of the paper’s contribution to the existing literature, and integration of previous authors’ work on the topic in any discussion (in particular, citation of sources used!).  Papers published in scholarly journals are expert-approved…and great sources of high-quality information for college-level research papers. 

Articles from 'popular' publications, on the other hand (like magazines, newspapers or many sites on the Internet), are published with minimal editing (for spelling and grammar, perhaps; but, typically not for factual accuracy or intellectual integrity).  While interesting to read, these articles aren’t sufficient to support research at an academic level. 

But, with so many papers out there, how do you know if an paper has been peer reviewed?

Searching the library’s databases can save you a lot of time…allowing you to limit your search to scholarly or peer-reviewed articles only (with a single click!)  Most internet search engines (like Google and Yahoo) can’t do this for you, leaving you to determine for yourself which of those thousands of articles are scholarly. 

If you’ve already found an article that you’d like to use in a research paper, but you’re not sure if it’s popular or scholarly, there are ways to tell.  The table below lists some of the most obvious clues (but your librarians will be happy to help you figure it out as well!). 

For help determining whether a book is scholarly or not, click here.

POPULAR

SCHOLARLY

Authors’ names are given, and occasionally some biographical information, but rarely credentials (degrees, professional status, expertise).  You may be left wondering if the author is really an expert on the topic he or she is writing about.

Authors’ names, credentials and even addresses are almost always included (so that interested researchers can correspond).  Authors will be experts in their fields.

Articles are written for a broad audience (written in an informal tone…people of all ages and/or levels of knowledge could read these).

Papers are written for experts (or college students!) in the field (lots of technical language and/or discipline specific jargon, statistical analyses, written in a formal tone).

Articles may have short summaries of research or news…or may even reflect the authors’ opinion (without support from data or literature).

Papers typically report, in great detail, the authors’ research findings (and include support from other research)…these papers will be more than just 1 or 2 pages.

Authors don’t typically (or never) cite their sources, and don’t include a list of references at the end of the article.

Authors always cite their sources throughout the paper, normally in conformance with a Style Manual, and include list of references at the end.

Articles typically include many photographs or illustrations (often pretty to look at).

Papers seldom include photographs, but may include tables or graphs of data (may seem bland at a glance).

The journal has an editor, but no strict guidelines for submission of articles, or peer review process.

The journal has very specific guidelines for papers to be published (often this information can be found on the journal’s website), and a rigorous peer-review process (each paper will list when it was submitted to the reviewers, and when it was accepted for publication…often several months apart!).

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