In the world of academia, scholarly research places special emphasis on the quality and credibility of sources. Here, peer-reviewed articles are viewed as one of the most reliable types of publications. But how do you identify these types of articles and how do you know that the peer review is reliable? Whether you’re a student working on a paper or you need to check whether an article is peer reviewed, this step-by-step guide will walk you through the process. Let’s get started!
What is a Peer Review?
Peer reviewing is a quality control process where experts in a specific field like science, technology or health evaluate articles for publication in academic and research journals, making sure that the information within them is accurate, high-quality and error free. This detailed process ensures not only that the research is original but that it is relevant and adds to the existing body of knowledge about the topic.
Why Does Having Peer Reviewed Articles Matter?
Peer reviewed articles ensure that the research has been done correctly and is reliable. The process filters out any research that’s below acceptable standards and helps eliminate the possibility of mistakes. It also helps advance knowledge in the field in a way that’s accurately controlled and reliable.
How Does a Peer Review Actually Work?
In order to have research or an article peer-reviewed, submissions must undergo a rigorous process, including:
Pre-submission - Before a paper ever gets peer reviewed, the researchers themselves go through several drafts of their study, getting feedback from their peers on what to change, add, edit or remove.
Submission - Once they’ve gotten as much feedback as they can, the editorial team conducts an initial review to determine whether or not the paper is appropriate for the journal they want to publish in.
Selection Review - Editors select reviewers based on their expertise and lack of bias. Generally they’re not even aware of the author’s identity to ensure a “blind review” – a review that’s as unbiased as possible.
Review - Reviewers then evaluate the research based on its relevance, originality, clarity and methodology. They often provide detailed feedback to the authors and researchers so that the work can be improved upon.
Editorial Decision - Based on the reviewer’s feedback, the editors decide whether or not the paper should be accepted, revised or rejected.
Publication - Articles that are accepted undergo a final check and one last round of formatting fixes before they’re published.
How Do You Identify Peer Reviewed Articles?
There are several ways to identify peer reviewed articles, including:
Library Databases - Many colleges and universities provide access to online databases that can filter search results to include only articles that are peer-reviewed. These databases include PubMed, Academic Search Premier and JSTOR among others.
Specialized Search Engines - Although it doesn’t exclusively contain peer-reviewed content, Google Scholar indexes scholarly articles from a variety of topics.
Official Journal Websites - If you find an article and aren’t sure whether or not it has been peer-reviewed, it’s a good idea to visit the journal’s official website. Many of them have a section dedicated to reviewers or outline their reviews process.
Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory - An educational database that provides information on the wide variety of academic journals and whether or not they use peer review.
Remember that just because content appears in a peer-reviewed journal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s peer reviewed. Things like book reviews and opinion pieces may not undergo the same strict process.
Choosing Peer Reviewed Articles with Confidence
Now that you know where to look for peer reviewed articles, how can you choose them wisely? First things first, it’s a good idea to understand the leading journals in the field. Once you’re more familiar with them, choosing peer reviewed articles becomes much more straightforward and simple.
As with any fact-checking process, it’s also a good idea to check out the background details of the author. Many scholarly article authors have affiliations with different academic institutions or research facilities. These articles also often have extensive bibliographies and should ideally detail their sources. Don’t hesitate to take a closer look at these citations as well as the abstract and structure of the pieces. Scholarly articles follow a specific structure which includes things like the abstract, methodology, results, discussion and conclusion.
Different Types of Peer Reviews
Another point to keep in mind as you select among peer reviews, is that there are different types of peer reviews depending on the field and the journal and their requirements. These types of peer reviews include:
Single-Blind Review - The reviewers are aware of the author’s identities, but the authors are not aware of who the reviewers are.
Double-Blind Review - Both the reviewers and the authors do not know each other’s identities.
Open Review - Both the reviewers and the authors know each other’s identities and reviews may be published alongside the final piece.
Post-Publication Review - Articles are published first and then the community evaluates them.
Challenges Within the Peer Review Process
Although the peer review process is meant to be rigorous and detailed, it is not without its challenges, including:
Bias - Although reviews can be single-blind or double-blind, personal biases can still be a challenge, particularly if the topic is controversial in nature.
Time-Consuming - Because of the strict requirements and rigorous processes, the review process itself can take months or even years which can delay the sharing of important findings.
Variability - It’s entirely possible that two different reviewers will have contrasting opinions on the same piece.
Potential for Misuse - Predatory journals claim to conduct peer reviews but will accept nearly any submission for a fee, which dilutes the quality of genuine, peer-reviewed work.
What Does the Future of Peer Review Look Like?
With developments in AI and a focus on accuracy, the future of peer review is exciting to consider. Here are some of the potential changes to look forward to:
Transparent Reviews Process - More and more journals are heading toward a more open, transparent reviews process with their submissions, further underscoring the need for credibility and accuracy as a whole.
AI in Peer Reviews - AI is taking on new life in peer reviewed publications as well. In the near future, AI could be tailored to help filter out initial screenings or check for plagiarism or other inconsistencies in the data.
Collaborative Reviews - Collaborative platforms like PubPeer open the doors for greater commentary and review after the publication, which creates a more cooperative and open approach.
Peer Review Platforms - Sites like ORCID help to give researchers a platform to display their peer review contributions, providing recognition for reviewers and helping to foster greater transparency.
The Gold Standard in Scholarly Research
As you can see, despite advances in technology and communication, expert peer-reviewed articles are still the gold standard in scholarly research due to their incredibly high standards and the scrutiny they undergo. The nuances and the drive toward a more transparent process, along with the benefits of greater credibility, more recognized authority in the field and ongoing associations and affiliations in the industry will continue to help researchers and readers alike appreciate the diligence behind each published article.
Considering the incredible pace at which technology is driving the need for greater credibility and accuracy in information, there’s no doubt that AI, machine learning, NLP and other technologies will have a beneficial, collaborative role to play well into the future.