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This Guide was created by Carolyn Swidrak (retired).
Research findings are communicated in many ways. One of the most important ways is through publication in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.
Research published in scholarly journals is held to a high standard. It must make a credible and significant contribution to the discipline. To ensure a very high level of quality, articles that are submitted to scholarly journals undergo a process called peer-review.
Once an article has been submitted for publication, it is reviewed by other independent, academic experts (at least two) in the same field as the authors. These are the peers. The peers evaluate the research and decide if it is good enough and important enough to publish. Usually there is a back-and-forth exchange between the reviewers and the authors, including requests for revisions, before an article is published.
Peer review is a rigorous process but the intensity varies by journal. Some journals are very prestigious and receive many submissions for publication. They publish only the very best, most highly regarded research.
The terms scholarly, academic, peer-reviewed and refereed are sometimes used interchangeably, although there are slight differences.
Scholarly and academic may refer to peer-reviewed articles, but not all scholarly and academic journals are peer-reviewed (although most are.) For example, the Harvard Business Review is an academic journal but it is editorially reviewed, not peer-reviewed.
Peer-reviewed and refereed are identical terms.
From Peer Review in 3 Minutes [Video], by the North Carolina State University Library, 2014, YouTube (https://youtu.be/rOCQZ7QnoN0).
Peer reviewed articles can include:
There is much excellent, credible information in existence that is NOT peer-reviewed. Peer-review is simply ONE MEASURE of quality.
Much of this information is referred to as "gray literature."
Government websites such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publish high level, trustworthy information. However, most of it is not peer-reviewed. (Some of their publications are peer-reviewed, however. The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the CDC is one example.)
Papers from conference proceedings are not usually peer-reviewed. They may go on to become published articles in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dissertations are written by doctoral candidates, and while they are academic they are not peer-reviewed.
Many students like Google Scholar because it is easy to use. While the results from Google Scholar are generally academic they are not necessarily peer-reviewed. Typically, you will find: