Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Jan 16, 2019     Views: 229751

Essentially, peer review is an academic term for quality control.  Each article published in a peer-reviewed journal was closely examined by a panel of reviewers who are experts on the article's topic (that is, the author’s professional peers…hence the term peer review).  The 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 (including citations).  Papers published in these journals are expert-approved…and the most authoritative sources of 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 articles out there, how do you know which are 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. 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 peer reviewed. 
  • 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). 

See also:  What does "scholarly" mean?  Is it the same as "peer reviewed?"




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, using everyday language (any technical terms will be explained). People of all ages and/or levels of knowledge could read these.  Usually written in a more casual tone.

Papers are written for experts (or college students!) in the field (lots of technical or discipline-specific terminology, which is seldom defined). Always 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, and include list of references (a bibliography or works cited page) 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!).


Need a visual?  Watch this quick video from the North Carolina State University Libraries:


Contact Us

Contact a librarian.

Librarians are available 365 days/nights per year!  Click to see our schedule.

Chat with a librarian:  more info


Library Notices & Alerts alert icon

Check here for updates about any ongoing technical outages and issues in the library. 

powered by Surfing Waves