What does "peer reviewed" or "refereed" mean?
Peer review is the process used by publishers and editors of academic / scholarly journals to ensure that the articles they publish meet the accepted standards of their discipline. Manuscripts being considered for publication are sent to independent experts in the same field (the author's scholarly or scientific peers). They evaluate the quality of the scholarship, reliability of findings, relevance to the field, appropriateness for the journal, etc. Most, but not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed.
How to recognize peer-reviewed (refereed) journals
In many cases professors will require that students utilize articles from “peer-reviewed” journals. Sometimes the phrases “refereed journals” or “scholarly journals” are used to describe the same type of journals. But what are peer-reviewed (or refereed or scholarly) journal articles, and why does faculty require their use?
Three categories of information resources:
• Newspapers and magazines containing news - Articles are written by reporters who may or may not be experts in the field of the article. Consequently, articles may contain incorrect information.
• Journals containing articles written by academics and/or professionals — although the articles are written by “experts,” any particular “expert” may have some ideas that are really “out there!”
• Peer-reviewed (refereed or scholarly) journals - Articles are written by experts and are reviewed by several other experts in the field before the article is published in the journal in order to insure the article’s quality. (The article is more likely to be scientifically valid, reach reasonable conclusions, etc.) In most cases the reviewers do not know who the author of the article is, so that the article succeeds or fails on its own merit, not the reputation of the expert.
How do you determine whether an article qualifies as being a peer-reviewed journal article?
First, you need to look for actual articles, excluding those types of information that are not. Then, you need to be able to identify which journals are peer-reviewed. There are generally four methods for doing this:
1. Limiting a database search to peer-reviewed journals only.
Some databases allow you to limit searches for articles to peer reviewed journals only. For example, Academic Search Premier has this feature on the initial search screen - click on the pertinent box to limit the search. In some databases you may have to go to an “advanced” or “expert” search screen to do this. Remember, many databases do not allow you to limit your search in this way.
2. Checking in the database Ulrichsweb.com to determine if the journal is indicated as being peer-reviewed. If you cannot limit your initial search to peer-reviewed journals, you will need to check to see if the source of an article is a peer-reviewed journal. This can be done by searching the database Ulrichsweb.com. From the Online Resources box in Ram Port, go to the alphabetical listing of databases and click on the “U”. Select Ulrichsweb.com. Choose the Quick Search for “Title (Exact)”. Type in the EXACT title of the source journal. (Note: in Ulrichsweb.com, unlike most other databases, you must type the exact title INCLUDING ANY INITIAL A, AN, or THE in the title. For example, searching for The Chronicle of Higher Education as “Chronicle of Higher Education” is incorrect – the initial “The” must be included.) If the original search is not successful, you may want to try an additional Quick Search using the “Title (Keyword)” option. If the journal you are interested in is not found, you will need to utilize Method C below. If your journal title IS displayed, check to see if the journal is indicated as being refereed by having the symbol next to the title.
3. Examining the publication to see if it is peer-reviewed.
If by using the first two methods you were unable to identify if a journal (and an article therein) is peer-reviewed, you may then need to examine the journal PHYSICALLY to determine if it is peer-reviewed. This method is not always successful with resources available only online, and is not recommended in this latter situation.
4. Find the official Web site on the Internet, and check to see if it states that the journal is peer-reviewed. Be careful to use the official site (often located at the journal publisher’s Web site), and, even then, information could potentially be “inaccurate.”