Peer reviewed journals

Peer reviewed journals: what are they and how to use them in your papers

Jan 18, 2013
Peer reviewed journals are often used as a standard of scholarly research for many disciplines. Much of academia relies on them for research purposes as well as teaching tools and reference materials. Similarly, many college course syllabi include several types of peer reviewed journals for students to review and reference throughout the course of the semester.
By definition, a peer reviewed journal is simply one that contains material that has been reviewed by individuals considered to be experts in a particular field of study. These peer reviewed articles, also known as refereed articles, must meet specific standards set by publishers as well as undergo examination and possible revisions by 'peers' or other researchers in the field.
Articles that do not meet the qualifications and standards of the discipline are usually denied by publishers. This can be an indicator of the quality and scholarship of the information presented in these publications. Peer reviewed journals are known for high standards of research and writing craft; therefore once an article is approved for publication, in most cases it can be considered a credible and reliable source of information.

Are most publications peer reviewed?

Not all profession or discipline-related publications are peer reviewed. For instance, you may see a magazine, newsletter, or journal that says 'Social work today' or 'Nursing in motion.' Simply because the titles of these publications bare the name of a particular discipline does not necessarily mean that the publication can be used as a credible and viable source information. The qualifications and expertise of authors that contribute to the medium as well as the publications submission procedures should first be evaluated.

Finding out if something is peer reviewed

Generally when searching for journals in a library catalog, for instance, whether the particular journal is peer reviewed or not should be noted in the description information of the publication. Though there are some very high quality articles that don't undergo a peer review, in many cases academic departments as well as professors will often prefer peer reviewed articles over those that are not. So be sure to check for this before utilizing a source.

How to use journals as source in your paper

When preparing any type of academic piece, its likely that peer reviewed journals will be one of the main secondary sources referenced in your paper. This has a lot to do with the quality of information found in them. There are a few things in particular that a journal article will usually offer you throughout your research;
  1. in-depth analysis of select concepts or ideas
  2. experiments and empirical studies
  3. evaluations and discussions of various theories
  4. examinations of different methods or approaches to understanding an issue
  5. charts, diagrams, and figures to accompany data
You'll find that many of these things will be very helpful to you as you strive to gain a better understanding of your topic and work to craft your own unique paper. Though one issue to keep in mind when utilizing any source for academic purposes (journal articles as well as other sources), is to be mindful of plagiarism and its remedy-proper citing and referencing. To assist you, many instructors will require a particular styling guide such as MLA or APA to be used when formatting and referencing sources in your paper. Each styling guide, for the most part, will offer a unique way of referencing journal articles. Some examples can be seen below.

MLA sample journal article entries (Work Cited Page)

Smith, Harold. "Infectious disease and your infant." Medical Health Quarterly 15 (2012): 3-7. Print.
Johnson, Henry L. "Today's infant." Infant Health Journal 28 (2012): 16-23. Web. 10 September 2012.

APA sample journal article entries (Reference Page)

Lani, J. (2012). Deciding factors in the no-vaccination trend. American Infant, 12, 216-223.
Ahmad,H.(2012). Parents who choose not to vaccinate and why. Infant Health Journal, 28. Retrieved from
Additionally if quoting a source directly in your paper as well as paraphrasing or summarizing an author, you'll need to also make use of the parenthetical citation format for each styling guide. These steps are very important to ensure proper referencing of sources so not fault can be given. Likewise, source cards are also very helpful in aiding you to keep track of all referenced materials.

Credible source checklist

Though the credibility of peer reviewed articles has already been established its still a good idea to know the general characteristics of reliable and credible sources. This is because a situation may occur in which you run across an article that you would like to use but are not sure if its peer reviewed or not, or cannot determine the general review procedures of the publication. Below are a few things to ask yourself when questioning the credibility of a source;
  1. Who is the author and publisher? Are they an authoritative voice on the topic?
  2. Is the material presented subjective or objective? (i.e. Are there any noticeable biases?)
  3. What is the scope of the information? Are all areas of the subject adequately covered? Are some things missing?
  4. Who is the audience? Who is this material intended for?
  5. Is the information current and up-to-date? Has any new pertinent research or studies been conducted since this information was recorded?
This is a good common sense approach to take with any possible source. Questions such as Who is the audience? for example, are important to ask because you may find an article that uses words that are very relaxed or informal in nature for instance. From this you may just assume that the source is not suitable for your research. But knowing the intended audience you may then determine that it was only written that way to address a particular group of people.
Also the issue of bias is a key 'credible' deciding factor; especially with online resources. With some topics, possibly those that spark emotional responses in people, you may find that the presentation of data is skewed to one perspective and really does not accurately represent other viewpoints. In most cases, but not always, journal articles that are objective are more feasible for research than journal articles that are subjective. In all, answering these questions, along with others, will hopefully allow to properly gauge whether or not a source is reputable with or without access to peer reviewed or scholarly publications.
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