How to know if an article is peer reviewed

How to Identify a Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Article

What are scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles?

Scholarly articles are those that are reviewed by multiple experts from their related field(s) and then published in academic journals. There are academic journals for every subject area. The primary purpose of scholarly journals is to represent and disseminate research and scholarly discussions among scholars (faculty, researchers, students) within, and across, different academic disciplines.

Scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Author(s): They are typically written by professors, researchers, or other scholars who specialize in the field and are often identified by the academic institution at which they work.
  • Purpose: They are published by professional associations, university publishers or other academic publishers to report research results or discuss ongoing research in detail.
  • Language: They are highly specialized and may use technical language.
  • Layout: They will cite their sources and include footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations and/or a list of bibliographic references.
  • Content: They may include graphs and tables and they undergo a peer review process before publication.

Helpful tips for finding scholarly articles:

  1. Limit your search to peer-reviewed journals only. Some databases allow you to limit searches for articles to peer reviewed journals only. For example, Academic Search Complete has a check-off "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Articles" filter:
    How to know if an article is peer reviewed
    and UW Libraries Search includes a filter to "Peer Reviewed Journals:"
    How to know if an article is peer reviewed

Have more questions? Contact Scholarly Communication and Publishing at [email protected] for more information and guidance.

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Why is it so hard to find Peer-Reviewed Sources?

It isn't hard to find peer-reviewed sources: you just need to know where to look! If you start in the right place, you can usually find a relevant, peer-reviewed source for your research in as few clicks as a Google search, and you can even use many of the search techniques you use in Google and Wikipedia.

The easiest way to find a peer-reviewed article is by using one of the Library's numerous databases. All of the Library's databases are listed in the Online Journals and Databases index. The databases are divided by name and discipline.

Departmental libraries and library subject guides have created subject-focused lists of electronic and print research resources that are useful for their disciplines. You can search the library directory for links to the departmental libraries at the University of Illinois Library, or search library websites by college if you're not sure which departmental library serves your subject.

Peer-Reviewed Resources for Disciplinary Topics

There are numerous print and digital resources for specific disciplines, areas of study, and specialist fields. To find research resources and databases for your area, consult the comprehensive directory of LibGuides, the websites of specialist libraries, and above all, contact a librarian for help!

Here are a few major databases for finding peer-reviewed research sources in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences:

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 do 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 ensure 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.

Helpful hint!

Not all information in a peer-reviewed journal is actually refereed, or reviewed. For example, editorials, letters to the editor, book reviews, and other types of information don’t count as articles, and may not be accepted by your professor.

How do you determine whether an article qualifies as being a peer-reviewed journal article?

First, 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 Complete 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. Go to the alphabetical listing of databases and click on the “U”. Select Ulrichsweb.com. It helps to type in the exact title of the source journal including any initial A, AN, or THE in the title. If you don’t find the journal you are interested in, you may want to utilize Method 3 below. If your journal title IS displayed, check to see if the journal is indicated as being refereed by having the symbol

  1. Locate the journal in the Library or online, then identify the most current entire year’s issues.
  2. Locate the masthead of the publication. This oftentimes consists of a box towards either the front or the end of the periodical, and contains publication information such as the editors of the journal, the publisher, the place of publication, the subscription cost and similar information.
  3. Does the journal say that it is peer-reviewed? If so, you’re done! If not, move on to step d.
  4. Check in and around the masthead to locate the method for submitting articles to the publication.  If you find information similar to “to submit articles, send three copies…”, the journal is probably peer-reviewed. In this case, you are inferring that the publication is then going to send the multiple copies of the article to the journal’s reviewers. This may not always be the case, so relying upon this criterion alone may prove inaccurate.
  5. If you do not see this type of statement in the first issue of the journal that you look at, examine the remaining journals to see if this information is included. Sometimes publications will include this information in only a single issue a year.
  6. Is it scholarly, using technical terminology? Does the article format approximate the following – abstract, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion, and references? Are the articles written by scholarly researchers in the field that the periodical pertains to? Is advertising non-existent, or kept to a minimum? Are there references listed in footnotes or bibliographies? If you answered yes to all these questions , the journal may very well be peer-reviewed. This determination would be strengthened by having met the previous criterion of a multiple-copies submission requirement. If you answered these questions no, the journal is probably not peer-reviewed.

Helpful hint!

If you have used the previous four methods in trying to determine if an article is from a peer-reviewed journal and are still unsure, speak to your instructor.

How can I tell if a journal is refereed or scholarly?

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A scholarly (peer-reviewed) article has gone through a review process before publication. During this review process, the article is evaluated (critiqued) by experts in the academic discipline. This type of journal is sometimes called a "refereed" journal.

Here are some tips for identifying a peer-reviewed article:

  • The journal title may include the word "Journal" or perhaps the word "Research."
  • The author's academic credentials/affiliation will typically be listed at the beginning of the article.
  • The article will typically include an abstract (summary) at the beginning of the article.
  • The article will describe an original study (experiment) or will provide a literature review that evaluates research by other scholars.
  • The article's list of cited references will be provided at the end of the article. This list is often labeled with the terms "References" or "Works Cited."
  • The article is usually quite long. (Hint: If an article is only one or a few pages long, it is probably not scholarly!)

Please Note: Many library databases provide the option to limit your search to scholarly/peer-reviewed articles. Although this limit option will limit the search results to articles published in scholarly/peer-reviewed journals, the results may also include letters to the editor, editorials, and book reviews, all of which have not gone through a peer-review process.

To determine if a journal is peer reviewed (also sometimes called refereed journals), try these steps:

    Look up the journal in the UlrichsWeb.com (available on the A-Z Database List). Go into the UlrichsWeb.com database and use the search box to search for the title or ISSN number of the journal (e.g. Harvard Law Review). Once you find the journal you are interested in, check the "Basic Description" or other available information about the journal to determine if it is peer reviewed (UlrichsWeb.com usually calls peer reviewed journals "refereed"):

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

Ulrichsweb.com may also provide you with information about the content in the journal (e.g. "Academic/Scholarly"), a description, and the publisher's website. These can be helpful if you want to determine if a journal is scholarly, even if it's not peer reviewed (all peer reviewed journals are scholarly but not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed).

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

The publication details may also provide you with information about the publication type (e.g. "Academic Journal"), a description, and the publisher's website. These can be helpful if you want to determine if a journal is scholarly, even if it's not peer reviewed.

If information about the journal is not available via a database, you may need to look up information about the journal elsewhere online. One of the best places to look online for confirmation of whether or not a journal is peer reviewed is on the publisher's website. Regardless, make sure to evaluate any web resources you use to look up a journal to ensure that the information you find is accurate.

Finally, if you need to use sources from peer reviewed journals, you may want to try using limiters. Some of the library's databases allow users to limit search results to articles that are published in peer reviewed journals. This will go a long way towards helping you find peer reviewed journals but can be imperfect, so you should always still evaluate articles you find to ensure that they are considered scholarly.

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

A peer reviewed article refers to a work that has been thoroughly assessed, and based on its quality has been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal. The aim of peer reviewing is to publish articles that meet the standards established in each field. This way, peer reviewed articles that are published can be taken as models of research practices.

Features of a peer reviewed article

A peer reviewed article can be recognized by the following features:

  • It is published in a scholarly journal. Take a look at the journal's features, especially for its description specifying if it's a peer reviewed journal.
  • It has a serious, and academic tone.
  • It features an abstract at the beginning.
  • It is divided by headings into introduction, literature review or background, discussion, and conclusion.
  • It includes in-text citations, and a bibliography listing accurately all references.
  • Its authors are affiliated to a research institute or university.

How to find peer reviewed articles

There are many ways in which you can find peer reviewed articles, for instance:

  • Checking the journal's 'About' section. This part should state if the articles published in the journal are peer reviewed, and the type of reviewing they perform.
  • Consult a database with peer reviewed journals, such as Web of Science Master Journal List, PubMed, Scopus, Google Scholar, etc. Specify in the advanced search settings that you are looking for peer reviewed journals only.
  • Consult your library's database, and specify in the search settings that you are looking for peer reviewed journals only.

Frequently Asked Questions about peer reviewed articles

A peer reviewed article refers to a work that has been thoroughly assessed, and based on its quality has been accepted to be published in a scholarly journal.

Who reviews peer reviewed articles?

Once an article has been submitted for publication to a peer reviewed journal, the journal assigns the article to an expert in the field, who is considered the “peer”.

How to search peer reviewed articles?

The easiest way to find a peer reviewed article is to narrow down the search in the "Advanced search" option. Then, mark the box that says "peer reviewed".

Where can I find peer reviewed journals?

Consult a database with peer reviewed journals, such as Web of Science Master Journal List, PubMed, Scopus, etc.

Are peer reviewed articles better?

There are many views on peer reviewed articles. Take a look at Peer Review in Scientific Publications: Benefits, Critiques, & A Survival Guide for more insight on this topic.

Scholarly articles (also known as academic articles) are written by experts in a field or discipline for other academics or area experts. They’re usually published by a professional association or academic press. And content-wise will focus on research, have citations (like a bibliography or footnotes), and be professional in appearance with no spelling or grammatical errors, advertisements, or unrelated images.

Some scholarly articles go a bit further to be peer-reviewed. All peer-reviewed articles are scholarly articles, but not all scholarly articles are peer-reviewed.

There are several ways to determine whether or not an article is peer reviewed (also called refereed).

1. If you found the article in a library database, there may be some indicator as to whether the article is scholarly.

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

2. If you found the article using OneSearch, it will have a peer-reviewed icon:

3. In the library databases, you might find that the journal name is a hyperlink as shown below. Clicking on it takes you to a page about the journal which should make it clear whether the journal is scholarly, academic, peer reviewed, or refereed.

4. You can look up the journal name in the library database called Ulrichs Web: Global Serials Directory (previously called Ulrichs Periodical Directory). Search for the journal title and find the correct entry in the results list. There may be multiple versions of the same journal–print, online, and microfilm formats–but there also may be two different journals with the same title.

Look to left of the title, and if you find a referee shirt icon, that means that the journal is peer-reviewed or refereed.

5. The publisher’s website for the journal should indicate whether articles go through a peer review process. Find the instructions for authors page for this information.

Note that an article can be from a peer reviewed journal and not actually be peer reviewed. Editorials, news items, and book reviews do not necessarily go through the same review process. A peer reviewed article should be longer than just a couple of pages and include a bibliography.

So, what is "peer review"? This refers to the process where 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, including the validity of the data, the conclusions the authors' draw and the originality of the research. This process is important because it validates the research and gives it a sort of "seal of approval" from others in the research community.

Peer review in 5 minutes (NCSU) (5:11 min.)

Identifying if a Journal is Peer Reviewed

One of the best places to find out if a journal is peer-reviewed is to go to the journal website.

Most publishers have a website for a journal that tells you about the journal, how authors can submit an article, and what the process is for getting published.

If you find the journal website, look for the link that says information for authors, instructions for authors, submitting an article or something similar.

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

Using the Database to Identify a Peer-Reviewed Journal

Another place to find out if the journal is peer-reviewed is to use one of the online databases.

For example, if you know that articles from your journal appear in the Academic Search Premier database, you can search for the journal in the database and learn more about it.

Go to Academic Search Premier and click on Publications at the top of the screen.

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

Enter the name of the journal and click browse. If the journal is included in the database, you will see it in the list of results.

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

This will take you to the journal information. At the bottom, you can see that this journal is peer-reviewed.

How to know if an article is peer reviewed

Academic Search Premiere does not include all journals so the one you are looking for may not be listed here. You can also try AcademicOneFile and browse for the publication.