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Research Hacked: Peer Review

How to find and use peer-reviewed sources

peer review

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Imagine you're writing an essay for your class. You want to backup your arguments or support your point of view with the best possible information, right? Peer-reviewed journals are like a squad of experts who have your back.They give you access to high-quality information that's been double-checked by other experts. Think of them as reliable sources with a "scholar-approved" stamp.

Use peer-reviewed articles when you need:

  1. Higher Credibility: Peer review ensures articles go through a rigorous vetting process by experts, making them more reliable sources. The are the highest standard in scholarly publishing.
  2. Stronger Evidence: Peer-reviewed articles often present well-researched arguments backed by solid evidence, strengthening your own academic work.
  3. Up-to-date Information: Many peer-reviewed journals publish the latest findings, keeping your research current and relevant.
  4. Professor Approval: Since peer review is a hallmark of academic research, professors often prefer sources that have undergone this process.

But, what's the difference between an article being "scholarly" and it being peer reviewed?

How exactly does peer review work?

How do you even find peer-reviewed articles?

And, once you've got one, how do you actually understand what it's saying?

Distinguish between Scholarly and Peer Reviewed

gold "peer review" cirecle inside blue "scholarly" circle

Scholarly (or academic) sources are written by experts for experts in an academic or scholarly setting. They expect readers to have background knowledge and use specialized, high-level vocabulary. They often contain reports of research findings and original analysis. While a scholarly article presents research or analysis by an expert, a peer-reviewed scholarly article takes it a step further. It's been vetted by other scholars in the field, ensuring the research meets quality standards before publication.

Every peer-reviewed article is scholarly, but not all scholarly articles are peer reviewed.


Demystify Peer Review

Or try this quick explainer video from Common Craft (2:57):

This video is licensed from Common Craft.

Find Peer-Reviewed Articles

Select the proper search tool to make finding peer-reviewed articles a snap.

Or, try one of these research databases, which are power search tools provided by the library:

Some research databases are specialized by discipline to make searching for peer-reviewed articles in that subject simpler. These Librarian Favorites are examples.

Some open access publications are also peer reviewed. These articles are freely available. Try these librarian favorites.

Determine if It Is Peer Reviewed

Become a source sleuth with this checklist!

1. Dig into the Journal's Website:

Head to the official website of the journal where the article is published. Look for sections titled "About the Journal," "For Authors," or "Peer Review Process." These sections often state if the journal uses peer review.
2.  Search the Journal Name:

Can't find anything on the website? Google the journal's name (not the article title) or look it up in the library's Publication Finder. Look for terms like "refereed" or "peer-reviewed" in the description.

3.  Scrutinize the Article Information:

Does the article list an "accepted" or "published" date? Peer-reviewed articles go through a process before publication and often have three (yes, 3!) dates on them: date submitted, date accepted, and date published.

4.  Pick Library Databases:

Did you find the article through the library's research databases? Did you limit your results to "peer reviewed"?

5.  Ask the Experts:

Still unsure? Don't hesitate to ask your instructor or a librarian for help! They're superstars at navigating the world of credible sources.

sample Publication Finder entry

Read Like a Scholar

Suggested reading order
Section Purpose You'll Most Likely Find Ask Yourself
Title What It’s About

Keywords for further searching

Does this title seem relevant to my information needs?
Abstract Summary

The study’s purpose

Highlights of the focus and results

Relevance of the study or findings

What is this article about?

Is it related to my question or area of research?

Introduction Why It Was Done

A clearly stated research question or hypothesis

The conceptual framework, theory, or model being tested or explored

Why is the research important? 

How is it unique? 

Will it tell me anything new related to my research question?

Conclusion What Was Learned

Restatement of results and their importance

Suggestions for further research

What does the study mean? 

Why is it important?

Discussion What It Means

If the hypothesis was supported or not

Limitations of the study

This may not be its own section but part of the conclusion

What are the weaknesses in their argument?

Is the conclusion valid?

Results What Happened

Description of the findings

Tables and figures

What did the author find and how did they find it? 

Are the results presented in a factual and unbiased way? 

Does their analysis agree with the data presented? 

Is all the data present? 

Methods How It Was Done

Identification and explanation of the scientific procedures or research methodology used

How did they do the research? 

Is it a qualitative or quantitative project? 

Are methods thoroughly explained and presented in chronological order?

What data are the study based on? 

References Sources Cited 

Acknowledgement of contributions that inform, influence, support, or conflict with the study/article

A trail to follow for further research

Refer to these anytime.

What other articles should I read? 

What other authors are respected in this field? 

What other research should I explore?


Pro Tips

Read Actively

  • Read out of order.
  • Use any keywords printed by the journals as further clues about the article.
  • Keep your research question in mind.
  • Focus on the information in the article relevant to your question, & skim over other parts.
  • Question everything you read; not everything is 100% true or performed effectively.
  • Think critically about what you read and seek to build your own arguments.
  • Look up words you don't know.

Take Notes

Try different methods to find the one that fits you best. Here are some suggestions:

  • Print the article and highlight, circle and otherwise mark while you read (for a PDF, you can use the highlight text feature in Adobe Reader).
  • Take notes on the sections, for example in the margins (Adobe Reader offers pop-up sticky notes).
  • Highlight only very important quotes or terms or highlight potential quotes in a different color.
  • Summarize the main or key points.


As you read, jot down questions that come to mind. These may be answered later on in the article, or you may have found something that the authors did not consider. Here are a few questions that might be helpful:

  • Have I taken time to understand all the terminology?
  • Am I spending too much time on the less important parts of this article?
  • Do I have any reason to question the credibility of this research?
  • What specific problem does the research address and why is it important?
  • How do these results relate to my research interests or to other works which I have read?

Credits: Adapted from University of Southern California Libraries

Video Explainer from Kishwaukee College Library