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How to Recognize Peer-Reviewed (Refereed) Journals

Find all the information you need on recognizing and citing sources for your research papers. 

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 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 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

  • 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.


  • Locate the journal in the Library or online, then identify the most current entire year’s issues.
  • 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.
  • Does the journal say that it is peer-reviewed? If so, you’re done! If not, move on to step d.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Find the official website 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 website), and, even then, information could potentially be “inaccurate.”

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.

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Peer-reviewed journal articles

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academic peer reviewed journal articles

Peer review (also known as refereeing) is a process where other scholars in the same field (peers) evaluate the quality of a research paper before it's published. The aim is to ensure that the work is rigorous and coherent, is based on sound research, and adds to what we already know. 

The purpose of peer review is to maintain the integrity of research and to ensure that only valid and quality research is published.

To learn more about the peer review process see:

  • What is peer review? Comprehensive overview of the peer review process and different types of peer review from Elsevier

Your lecturers will often require you to use information from academic journal articles that are peer reviewed (also known as refereed).

Peer-reviewed articles are credible sources of information. The articles have been written and reviewed by trusted experts in the field, and represent the best scholarship and research currently available.

Explanation of peer reviewed articles and journals (YouTube, 1m51s)

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academic peer reviewed journal articles

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What's a peer-reviewed journal article?

academic peer reviewed journal articles

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:

  • First, double-check that the source is a journal article. Many journals have the word “Journal” as part of their title, but many do not. The best indication is that the  Volume  field will have an entry, but pre-prints and some journal articles won’t have this information. A  DOI  is also a good indication that you’re looking at a journal article, even though DOIs are sometimes also used for conference papers. If you see a full date or a month and year instead of just a year, and if the article is only one or two pages long, you likely have a newspaper article or magazine article instead of a journal article.
  • Next, on the  Reference  tab, check if there is any source designation in the  Title supplement  or  Notes  If you see “Journal Article” or something similar, you’re on the right track, but you also might see “Letter to the editor”, “Letter”, “Editorial” “Book review”, etc., which are not peer-reviewed.
  • Finally, switch to the  Content  tab and read the abstract if one is available. Does the article appear to contain an experiment or original analysis by the author(s) themselves? Original research often appears in peer-reviewed journals, so this is one additional clue that it could be a peer-reviewed article.

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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Library FAQs

How do I find scholarly, peer reviewed journal articles?

  • What is the difference between scholarly and peer reviewed journals?
  • How do I determine if a particular journal is peer reviewed?
  • What are empirical articles? How do I locate them in NCU Library?
  • Are dissertations and theses considered scholarly or peer-reviewed resources?
  • Are books peer reviewed? If so, how can I tell or how can I find them?
  • Are law reviews considered to be scholarly and peer-reviewed?
  • Are government sources considered to be scholarly?

Scholarly journals are journals which are well respected for the information and research they provide on a particular subject. They are written by experts in a particular field or discipline and their purpose is to advance the ongoing body of work within their discipline. These articles might present original research data and findings, or take a position on a key question within the field. They can be difficult to read, because their intended audience is other experts and academics, but they are the capstone when it comes to authoritative information.

Scholarly journals are oftentimes peer reviewed or refereed . A peer-reviewed or refereed article has gone through a process where other scholars in the author’s field or discipline critically assess a draft of the article. The actual evaluations are similar to editing notes, where the author receives detailed and constructive feedback from the peer experts. However, these reviews are not made available publicly. For an example peer review of a fictitious article, see the Sample Peer-Review of a Fictitious Manuscript link below.

Please keep in mind that not all scholarly journals go through the peer-review process. However, it is safe to assume that a peer-reviewed journal is also scholarly. In short, “scholarly” means the article was written by an expert for an audience of other experts, researchers or students. “Peer-reviewed” takes it one step further and means the article was reviewed and critiqued by the author’s peers who are experts in the same subject area. The vast majority of scholarly articles are peer reviewed.

However, because there are many different types of peer-review, be sure to evaluate the resource itself to determine if it is suitable for your research needs. For example, law reviews may indicate that they are peer-reviewed, but their "peers" are other students. Please see the Law Reviews FAQ below for more explanation.

If you need help determining whether a scholarly journal is peer reviewed or refereed we recommend using the Ulrichsweb database. Ulrichsweb is the authoritative source of bibliographic and publisher information on more than 300,000 periodicals of all types, including academic and scholarly journals. Find out more about how to use and access Ulrichsweb through NU Library by watching the Ulrichsweb Quick Tutorial Video (link below).

For additional instruction on scholarly vs. peer reviewed journals, please see the Library's Scholarly vs. Peer-Reviewed Journals Quick Tutorial Video (link below).

For information about how to limit your database searches to scholarly/peer-journals, see the following FAQ:

  • Sample Peer-Review of a Fictitious Manuscript
  • Law Reviews FAQ
  • Ulrichsweb Quick Tutorial Video
  • Scholarly vs. Peer-Reviewed Journals Quick Tutorial Video

Peer Review Process

For scholarly information on the peer review process, see the following resources:

  • Chenail, R. (2008). Peer review. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp. 605-606). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412963909.n313
  • Constantine, N. (2008). Peer review process. In S. Boslaugh (Ed.), Encyclopedia of epidemiology (Vol. 2, pp. 795-796). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412953948.n343
  • Mark, M. & Chua, P. (2005). Peer review. In S. Mathison (Ed.), Encyclopedia of evaluation (pp. 299-299). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412950558.n404

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How to Find Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

How to Identify a Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journal Article

  • Peer Review & Academic/Scholarly Journals
  • Finding Academic/Scholarly Journal Articles in Library Databases

Terms & Definitions

Scholar: A highly educated specialist who conducts research in a particular branch of study

Periodical: A type of publication produced as an open-ended series at regular intervals, or “periods,” such as daily, monthly, quarterly or annually

Scholarly/Academic Journal: A type of periodical that includes original research articles written by researchers and experts in a particular academic discipline, providing a forum for the production and critique of knowledge

Research Article: A formally written article that describes new knowledge or ideas based on original research, analysis and/or interpretation

Peer Review: The process by which scholars critically evaluate each other's research article prior to publication in an academic journal.

Editor: An individual who reviews, corrects, and determines the final content of a publication<

Scholarly Communication: "The system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs" (ACRL)

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Scholarly, peer-reviewed articles will have most of the characteristics listed below. Ask yourself these questions and look at the article to check if if the way it looks and is written indicates it is a reliable, accurate source:

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  • Example of a Peer-Reviewed Journal Article
  • Identifying Peer-Reviewed Research Articles
  • Clues an Article is NOT Peer-Reviewed
  • Types of Publications: Scholarly, Trade & Popular

academic peer reviewed journal articles

The following terms and characteristics indicate an article is news or opinion-based information or published in a trade or professional journal. 

  • Short title and abstract with simple, plain language 
  • Provides advice, information and/or news of interest to a professional or practitioner of the discipline, field or industry
  • Short or no reference list, footnotes and/or endnotes
  • ​Advertising targeted at individuals or companies associated with the profession. For example: job boards, industry supplies/equipment
  • Professional, educational, and opinion-based terms, such as:

academic peer reviewed journal articles

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Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

  • What is Peer-Review?

What does a Peer Reviewed Journal Article Look Like?

  • How do I find Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles?
  • How to I verify that an article is Peer-Reviewed?

academic peer reviewed journal articles

  • Full Article This is full article from the first page above.

Things to look for in order to tell if the article is peer-reviewed:

1.  Author credentials : Look for degrees, school affiliations and contact information. When in doubt, look them up. 2.  Publisher : Usually the journal will be published by a scholarly society, university press, or major scholarly publisher like Elsevier or Springer.

3.  References : The authors of peer-reviewed articles will show you where they got their information from, usually at the end of the article. 4. Format:  These articles generally follow a format of abstract, introduction, literature reviews, methods, results, limitations, and conclusions. This will vary by discipline. 5.  Language : The authors of peer-reviewed articles are writing for experts in their field, so the language is discipline-specific and can be difficult for an average person to read.

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Answered By: Woodruff Library Reference Last Updated: Jan 04, 2022     Views: 47380

Peer-reviewed articles, also known as scholarly or refereed articles, are:

  • Are written by experts in the field
  • Are written for other researchers/scholars
  • Are reviewed by the scholar's peers to determine whether they are high-quality pieces of work
  • Use terms and language that are discipline-specific
  • Usually include in-text citations and a bibliography of cited sources
  • May include graphs, charts, etc., related to the topic
  • Are published by a professional organization or society, university, research center, or scholarly press

Strategies for finding peer-reviewed articles

  • Use  a library database  and limit your search to only peer-reviewed articles . Many of the databases are limited to scholarly publications OR allow you to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles.
  • Search Articles+ for peer-reviewed articles

Learn if a journal is peer-reviewed

  • Some databases allow you to click on the journal title to get more information about it.  
  • Or check the journal's website to see whether or not the journal uses a peer-review process in its publishing practices.
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academic peer reviewed journal articles

Finding peer-reviewed journal articles

A peer-reviewed journal is one in which the articles have been examined, prior to publication, by experts in the article's field of study before it is published. Peer-reviewed publications (often titled journal, review or research) are produced specifically for academics, scholars and professionals, unlike popular magazines found in newsagents and supermarkets.

The differences are:

How do I know if a journal article is peer-reviewed?

When searching some databases and QuickSearch , you can specify that the results only include 'peer-reviewed' journals.

Scholarly or peer-reviewed articles usually contain section headings like these:

  • Abstract and keywords - the abstract and keywords may be added by an editor or publisher.
  • Introduction and statement of the problem - identifies the need for the work, and the research question.
  • Review of the literature - the literature review should identify the major works of other researchers and identify theories and lines of thought.
  • Methodology - explains the methods so others can replicate the study.
  • Data collection - the data collection and analysis discuss the particular work being reported.
  • Analysis - examines the data by qualitative or quantitative means, states whether the research question or hypothesis was proven or disproved.
  • Conclusions and recommendations - the final section provides a theory about the results, identifies any obvious flaws in the work, and provides suggestions for follow-up research.
  • References - includes a comprehensive list of references.

Use Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory to check whether a journal is peer-reviewed (you will need to log in with your Fed login and password).

academic peer reviewed journal articles


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    Technical and formal language with complex ideas and arguments, an objective tone, and an analytical perspective; Lengthy (at least 5 pages of

  10. What does a Peer Reviewed Journal Article Look Like?

    References: The authors of peer-reviewed articles will show you where they got their information from, usually at the end of the article. 4.

  11. Q. What are peer-reviewed articles and how do I find them?

    Use a library database and limit your search to only peer-reviewed articles. Many of the databases are limited to scholarly publications OR allow you to limit

  12. Peer Review

    The rigour of a peer review system ensures the quality of a research article. Academic Journals employs a rigorous peer review system. All submitted manuscripts

  13. Finding peer-reviewed journal articles

    A peer-reviewed journal is one in which the articles have been examined, prior to publication, by experts in the article's field of study

  14. How do I know if a journal article is scholarly (peer-reviewed)?

    1) One way to know that an article is scholarly or peer-reviewed is if the database gives a visual indication as to whether an article is