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Basic Research Concepts (Sciences)

Peer Review

Why does this matter?

Articles with weak studies or false findings still get published from time to time, but it is much less frequent than it used to be thanks to peer review, which catches most poorly-designed research.

As a student researcher, your assignments typically require you to use peer-reviewed articles. Many library databases contain articles that are not peer-reviewed, such as magazine articles and newspaper articles. Magazine and newspaper articles are not peer-reviewed by experts in the field and therefore should not be used to support scientific arguments made in a college paper or other scientific writing.

It’s important for you to know how to tell if you’re looking at a peer-reviewed article or an article that is not peer-reviewed.


What is peer review?

Peer review is a process that research articles go through before being published. Research articles that undergo a peer review process are more trustworthy than research that is published without peer review.

Simplified outline of the publication process:

  1. A researcher--someone like your professors--completes a research study or experiment.
  2. The researcher wants to share their findings with other researchers, so they select an academic journal where they'd like to publish their research, write a research paper, and submit the manuscript to the journal.
  3. If the journal editor believes the research paper might be worth publishing, they send it to 2-3 peer reviewers, omitting the name of the author. These peer reviewers are usually researchers in the same general field as the author or the research paper. 
  4. The 2-3 peer reviewers check the methods of the study to ensure they are sound, logical, and detailed enough for another researcher to perform.
  5. The peer reviewers write anonymous comments that are sent back to the author. Sometimes the research paper is approved for publication, but often times, the peer reviewers will recommend corrections and ask the author to make these improvements before submitting again.
  6. At the end of the review process, which may involve multiple revisions, the research paper will either be rejected or approved for publication.

How to tell if an article is peer reviewed?

In most cases, an article is peer-reviewed if:

  1. You found the article through the library website
  2. The article has a references list at the end (usually 5 references or more).

If you really want to be sure if an article was peer-reviewed, check to see if it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. The website of the journal where the article was published should indicate whether their research articles go through a peer review process.

Example 1: Peer Reviewed 

Article: Coffee Intake and Obesity: A Meta-Analysis

This article was found through the TWU Library website using the database called PubMed.

Scroll to the end of the article to view the large number of citations.

Example 2: NOT Peer Reviewed

Article: Epigenetic Hints for the Health Benefits of Drinking Coffee [TWU log-in required]

This article was found in a library database, but it doesn't have any references/citations listed. This article is from a magazine and therefore is NOT peer reviewed.

Test Yourself! 

If you'd like to check if you understand what peer review is and how to tell if an article is peer-reviewed, take this optional, ungraded quiz.