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What does it mean when a publication is peer reviewed?

A peer-reviewed publication is also sometimes referred to as a scholarly publication. The peer-review process subjects an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field (peers) and is considered necessary to ensure academic scientific quality. 

Learn more:  Fundamental Science Practices: Peer Review

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U.s. geological survey fundamental science practices, usgs increases public access to scientific research.

What is peer review? What is a peer-reviewed journal?

Peer-reviewed (or refereed) journals.

Peer-reviewed or refereed journals have an editorial board of subject experts who review and evaluate submitted articles before accepting them for publication. A journal may be a scholarly journal but not a peer-reviewed journal.

Peer review (or referee) process

How to tell if a journal is peer-reviewed

For an overview of the different types of journals, see What is a scholarly (or peer-reviewed) journal?

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What are Peer-Reviewed Journals?

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Peer-reviewed journals (also called scholarly or refereed journals) are a key information source for your college papers and projects. They are written by scholars for scholars and are an reliable source for information on a topic or discipline. These journals can be found either in the library's online databases, or in the library's local holdings. This guide will help you identify whether a journal is peer-reviewed and show you tips on finding them.


What is Peer-Review?

Peer-review is a process where an article is verified by a group of scholars before it is published.

When an author submits an article to a peer-reviewed journal, the editor passes out the article to a group of scholars in the related field (the author's peers). They review the article, making sure that its sources are reliable, the information it presents is consistent with the research, etc. Only after they give the article their "okay" is it published.

The peer-review process makes sure that only quality research is published: research that will further the scholarly work in the field.

When you use articles from peer-reviewed journals, someone has already reviewed the article and said that it is reliable, so you don't have to take the steps to evaluate the author or his/her sources. The hard work is already done for you!

Identifying Peer-Review Journals

If you have the physical journal, you can look for the following features to identify if it is peer-reviewed.

Masthead (The first few pages) : includes information on the submission process, the editorial board, and maybe even a phrase stating that the journal is "peer-reviewed."

Publisher: Peer-reviewed journals are typically published by professional organizations or associations (like the American Chemical Society). They also may be affiliated with colleges/universities.

Graphics:  Typically there either won't be any images at all, or the few charts/graphs are only there to supplement the text information. They are usually in black and white.

Authors: The authors are listed at the beginning of the article, usually with information on their affiliated institutions, or contact information like email addresses.

Abstracts: At the beginning of the article the authors provide an extensive abstract detailing their research and any conclusions they were able to draw.

Terminology:  Since the articles are written by scholars for scholars, they use uncommon terminology specific to their field and typically do not define the words used.

Citations: At the end of each article is a list of citations/reference. These are provided for scholars to either double check their work, or to help scholars who are researching in the same general area.

Advertisements: Peer-reviewed journals rarely have advertisements. If they do the ads are for professional organizations or conferences, not for national products.

Identifying Articles from Databases

When you are looking at an article in an online database, identifying that it comes from a peer-reviewed journal can be more difficult. You do not have access to the physical journal to check areas like the masthead or advertisements, but you can use some of the same basic principles.

Points you may want to keep in mind when you are evaluating an article from a database:

Library Guides

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 do faculty require their use?

Three categories of information resources:

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


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.

American Public University System: LibAnswers banner

Q. What does "peer reviewed" mean?


Answered By: Priscilla Coulter Last Updated: Jul 29, 2022     Views: 261417

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 assess the author’s proper use of research methods, the significance of the paper’s contribution to the existing literature, and check on the authors’ works on the topic in any discussions or mentions in citations.  Papers published in these journals are expert-approved…and the most authoritative sources of information for college-level research papers. 

Articles from popula r 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?

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

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

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Need personalized help? Librarians are available 365 days/nights per year!  See our schedule.

Email your librarians. librarian@apus.edu

Learn more about how librarians can help you succeed.    

What is peer review?

From a publisher’s perspective, peer review functions as a filter for content, directing better quality articles to better quality journals and so creating journal brands.

Running articles through the process of peer review adds value to them. For this reason publishers need to make sure that peer review is robust.

Editor Feedback

"Pointing out the specifics about flaws in the paper’s structure is paramount. Are methods valid, is data clearly presented, and are conclusions supported by data?” (Editor feedback)

“If an editor can read your comments and understand clearly the basis for your recommendation, then you have written a helpful review.” (Editor feedback)

Principles of Peer Review

Peer Review at Its Best

What peer review does best is improve the quality of published papers by motivating authors to submit good quality work – and helping to improve that work through the peer review process. 

In fact, 90% of researchers feel that peer review improves the quality of their published paper (University of Tennessee and CIBER Research Ltd, 2013).

What the Critics Say

The peer review system is not without criticism. Studies show that even after peer review, some articles still contain inaccuracies and demonstrate that most rejected papers will go on to be published somewhere else.

However, these criticisms should be understood within the context of peer review as a human activity. The occasional errors of peer review are not reasons for abandoning the process altogether – the mistakes would be worse without it.

Improving Effectiveness

Some of the ways in which Wiley is seeking to improve the efficiency of the process, include:

Visit our Peer Review Process and Types of Peer Review pages for additional detailed information on peer review.

Transparency in Peer Review

Wiley is committed to increasing transparency in peer review, increasing accountability for the peer review process and giving recognition to the work of peer reviewers and editors. We are also actively exploring other peer review models to give researchers the options that suit them and their communities.

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Finding and Using Health Statistics

Peer-reviewed literature

Peer-reviewed journal articles have gone through an evaluation process in which journal editors and other expert scholars critically assess the quality and scientific merit of the article and its research. Articles that pass this process are published in the peer-reviewed literature. Peer-reviewed journals may include the research of scholars who have collected their own data using an experimental study design, survey, or various other study methodologies. They also present the work of researchers who have performed novel analyses of existing data sources, such as the ones described in this section.

Peer-reviewed literature is accessible via academic databases that enable users to execute searches across multiple journals.

Academic Databases for the Health and Biomedical Sciences

Leading Health- and Health Care-related Journals

Benefits of Peer-Reviewed Literature

Limitations of Peer-Reviewed Literature

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Lloyd Sealy Library

Evaluating Information Sources: What Is A Peer-Reviewed Article?

What Is A Peer-Reviewed Article?

Anali Perry, a librarian from Arizona State University Libraries, gives a quick definition of a peer-reviewed article.

The Library Minute: Academic Articles from ASU Libraries on Vimeo .

How Do Peer-Reviewed Articles Differ From Popular Ones?

This 3 minute video from the Peabody Library at Vanderbilt University talks about the differences between popular and scholarly articles.  It also mentions trade publications. 

What Is Peer Review?

In academic publishing, the goal of peer review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal. Before an article is deemed appropriate to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, it must undergo the following process:

Because a peer-reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer-reviewed articles that are accepted for publication exemplify the best research practices in a field.

Features of a Peer-Reviewed Article

When you are determining whether or not the article you found is a peer-reviewed article, you should consider the following.

Does the article have the following features?

Image of the first page of a peer-reviewed article. These items are highlighted: Been published in a scholarly journal.   An overall serious, thoughtful tone.   More than 10 pages in length (usually, but not always).   An abstract (summary) on the first page.  Organization by headings such as Introduction, Literature Review, and Conclusion.  Citations throughout and a bibliography or reference list at the end.  Credentialed authors, usually affiliated with a research institute or university.

Also consider...

How Do I Find Peer-Reviewed Articles?

The easiest and fastest way to find peer-reviewed articles is to search the online library databases , many of which include peer-reviewed journals. To make sure your results come from peer-reviewed (also called "scholarly" or "academic") journals, do the following:

Video tutorial

Watch this video through to the end. It will show you how to use a library database and how to narrow your search results down to just peer-reviewed articles.

Research and Writing Guides

Writing a paper? Don't get lost.

What are peer reviewed journals?

peer review journal meaning

Peer reviewed journals refer to scholarly journals that have their articles reviewed by peers before their publication. A peer reviewed article is a work that has been thoroughly assessed by an expert in the field, and based on its quality has been accepted to be published 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.

To be able to recognize such articles, take a look at our guide How to know if an article is peer reviewed .

Each work submitted for peer review has to undergo the following process to be published:

Over time, different types of peer review have emerged. Here is a concise description of the most common types of peer review:

🧭 How to recognize peer-reviewed (refereed) journals

📠 Evaluating Information Sources: What Is A Peer-Reviewed Article?

🧨 The Peer Review Process

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.

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”.

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".

The best source for peer reviewed journals is the Web of Science Master Journal List, available at: https://mjl.clarivate.com/search-results

academic search engines

peer review journal meaning

What's a peer-reviewed journal article?

peer review journal meaning

And how you can find peer-reviewed journals for your first research paper

Did you just get assigned your first research paper and are wondering about the requirement to use “peer-reviewed” or “scholarly” journal articles?

You’re not alone. I worked as an intern for a while at my university’s library, and I still remember the day a first-year student came up to the reference desk, handed me a piece of paper with the words “scholarly journals” on it, and asked where she could find them.

It’s an easy mistake to think you can just go to a section of the library, find some academic journals, and then look through them to find scholarly articles for a paper. These days, though, libraries are subscribing to fewer and fewer print journals, so you’ll usually be looking through a database instead. Before we get to that, though, what exactly are "peer-reviewed" journals anyway?

What does “peer-reviewed” mean?

A peer-reviewed journal is a journal article that has been selected, reviewed, and then approved for publication by other experts in the author’s field. Often the peer-review process is “double-blind”. This means that the reviewers don’t know the identity of the author and vice versa. Usually, there will be two or three reviewers. The reviewers will make comments and suggest corrections to the author, and the editor of the journal will then look at whether or not the author responded to these changes when deciding if the article should be published. This process can be very time-consuming but is designed to ensure the utmost quality of the published articles.

Where can you find peer-reviewed articles?

If, like the student in my story above, you are looking for peer-reviewed articles for the first time, how can you find them?

First, go to your library website. Many university libraries have a search portal on their website that searches both the library catalog and databases at the same time. If your library has this type of portal, just enter the search terms for your paper, and you’re likely to find a lot of items you have access to.

If your library doesn’t have a search portal for all library resources, it will usually have a “Databases” link. If Databases are listed by subject area, choose the subject area that fits best for your paper topic. If you’re not sure which subject area applies or if your topic is interdisciplinary in nature, use a database like EBSCO’s “Academic Search”. Some databases have an Advanced Search feature that lets you limit results to peer-reviewed journal articles. Other databases might have a filter that lets you narrow down your results to only keep those that are peer-reviewed. Keep an eye out for features like this.

Next, especially if the database you searched doesn’t have an option to limit results to peer-reviewed articles, check what type of sources you’ve found. An article might seem like it’s from a peer-reviewed journal but then turn out to be from a non-scholarly source such as a newspaper or magazine instead. Also, just because you found an article in a database and it’s from an academic journal, doesn’t mean it’s a peer-reviewed article! Book reviews or editorials, for example, are  not  peer-reviewed.

As mentioned above, most of the peer-reviewed articles you find will be online in a database. Since many students also have the requirement to not use any Internet sources for their first paper, this is understandably confusing, since databases are only accessible online. However, peer-reviewed journal articles found in a database are academic sources, and you don’t need to worry if you use them. If you’re ever unsure, just ask your professor or teaching assistant.

Are pre-prints peer-reviewed? And what are pre-prints anyway?

To make things even more confusing, in your database searches you might sometimes find an article that’s designated with one of the following terms: “pre-print publication”, “working paper”, “online first”, or “Epub ahead of print”. All of these designations mean that an article has not yet completed the entire publication process and appeared in the print edition of a journal. However, if you see “pre-print”, “preprint” or “working paper”, it usually means that the article has  not  gone through the peer-review process.

The Life Sciences, Mathematics, and the Physical Sciences tend to use pre-prints more frequently than other disciplines. The main reason is to get feedback before submitting to a journal, lay claim to the results before anyone else does, and to share results more quickly so that they can be used by other researchers.

If you see “online first “or “Epub ahead of print” in an article database, it usually means that the article has been accepted and gone through peer review. The article is just waiting to be published in the print edition of the journal. These types of articles are known as "postprints".

Can you cite a pre-print in your first research paper? If your requirements are to cite only peer-reviewed articles, you shouldn’t cite a pre-print since it hasn’t gone through the peer-review process. You can however cite a postprint, as long as you designate it accordingly. To add a postprint to Citavi, right-click the  Year  field and then select  In press . Enter the article’s date in the  Online since  field. The citation style you select will then automatically insert the correct designation.

Before you submit your paper, check to see if the article has appeared in print in the meantime. You can do so by clicking the  DOI name  field label and then selecting  Replace bibliographic information . If you now see entries in the volume, year, and issue number fields, the article has been published. Make sure to double-check that anything you cited is still current in the published version of the article.

Peer-reviewed journal articles in Citavi

Once you’ve found peer-reviewed articles online, it’s easy to transfer them to Citavi. But what about if you’re using Citavi’s online search feature and don’t have filters to help you determine which articles are peer-reviewed and which aren’t?

We recommend importing the results that look interesting and then assigning them the  Examine and assess  task. Then, at some point before obtaining the full text for the article, go through all references in your project with this task and try to evaluate whether the article is peer-reviewed or not:

This process will help you weed out sources that very likely are not peer-reviewed, but in some cases you’ll only know for sure after obtaining the full text of the article. On the first or last page of the PDF, you'll often see some information about the publishing process the paper has undergone, for example "Received for publication Dec 13, 2017; revisions received Jan 18, 2019; accepted for publication February 26, 2019".

If you’re ever still unsure if an article has undergone peer review, ask your librarian for help. Librarians are experts in distinguishing different types of sources.

Are there any problems with peer-review?

In 2018 three people purposefully submitted fake journal articles to peer-reviewed journals  to see if they could get them published. Astonishingly, 7 out of 20 journal articles were accepted for publication. The journals that published the fake papers have since retracted them.

The hoax was widely reported in the media and has led to many discussions of peer review both inside and outside of academia. Although the authors’ purported goal was to point out the flaws in scholarship practices in certain cultural studies disciplines that they named “grievance studies”, the hoax also showed that peer-review is not a perfect system.

While this news story is one of the biggest concerning peer review, researchers within academia have long pointed out that the system  doesn’t guard against statistical fraud or conclusions based on fraudulent data , since reviewers usually don’t have access to the authors’ data sets. Furthermore, some journals let authors submit names of potential reviewers, and it’s been discovered that authors  have used fake email addresses  or names and then reviewed their own work.

Do these problems mean that we should just scrap the peer review process altogether? There are many people who do indeed want to reform the process, and a number of initiatives such as  open peer review  have been suggested, which would remove reviewer anonymity.

Even if changes to the system never gain wide acceptance, it’s important to keep in mind that abuses of the system occur in a very small percentage of all published papers. While peer-review can undoubtedly be improved in some ways, on the whole it has proven to be a very good system for ensuring that only quality academic work gets published.

Have any questions or opinions about peer review? We’d love to hear from you  on our Facebook page !

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