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Evaluating Sources: Scholarly Journals & Peer Review

It is important to investigate and evaluate all sources. Whether a Web site or in paper, the same criteria basically apply for both.

What is peer review?

Peer review is the process by which, prior to publication, research articles are evaluated by a group of experts in the field (peers).

Overview of the peer review process

What are scholarly journals?

Scholarly journals are publications which report original research to other academics within a specific discipline. Articles which appear in scholarly journals are typically, but not always, subject to peer review prior to publication.

How to identify scholarly journals

Following is a checklist of some typical qualities of a scholarly journal article:
  • Is there an abstract or summary at the beginning of the article?
  • Does the article include a bibliography?
  • Are there in-text citations (e.g., parenthetical references, endnotes, or footnotes)?
  • Does the author use specialized language, relevant to the subject area?
  • What is the author's affiliation or credentials (e.g., is it with a college, university, or research organization)?
  • Who is the audience of the article? Is it written for fellow scholars in the field, for practitioners, or for a general/popular audience?
  • How many pages is the article? Is it substantial in length?
  • What kind of images does it contain? Scholarly journals tend to have few, if any images, but often contain charts, graphs, or data tables.
  • Does the journal title refer to an academic discipline or specialized field of study? Often the title will include words such as journalresearch, or review.

What is primary literature?

  1. It is where the researcher published their findings first (i.e., the primary place the data is found).
  2. In science, it's usually a journal article outlining methodology, data, results, conclusions.
  3. It will always have a Literature Cited section.
  4. It is the researcher's own words, not summarized by anyone else. 
  5. It is found in scholarly journals such as Animal Behaviour, Journal of Geology.
  6. The article will be peer-reviewed.

Newspaper articles, Newsweek, etc. are not primary literature. .

Where to find primary literature?

Journal databases that we suggest in our Subject guides or course guides will be the most efficient places to start for finding primary literature for your course assigments. Subject guides for the sciences are the tabs at the top of the Science Library home page.

Some databases, such as Scopus, provide access to primary literature and review articles almost exclusively. We try to give you a clue about this when we describe the database.

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