Identifying Peer-Reviewed Articles
Your instructors may require you to exclusively use peer-reviewed articles for your academic research papers. Learn how to identify the differences between peer-reviewed, trade, and popular magazines when using databases.
Peer-reviewed publications are targeted to those working in higher education and specific fields of research. Peer review means that before being published in the journal, each article has undergone rigorous evaluation for accuracy and reliability by a panel of credentialed authorities in the field.
Characteristics of a Peer-Reviewed Publication
- Longer, in-depth articles.
- Graphs or tables.
- Minimal images and advertisements (publisher-specific only).
- Specialized or field-specific language and jargon.
- Non-biased and objective.
- Reference lists and in-text citations.
- Abstracts, introductions, research questions, literature reviews, methods, results, conclusions, etc.
- Quarterly or semi-annual frequency.
- Inform other scholars and students in higher education of new research and findings.
- Experts in their fields: professionals conducting primary research, authoritative figures, professors and scholars. Credentials are either provided or easy to access.
- Often an organization will publish the journal, i.e. the American Medical Association publishes JAMA, Archives of Internal Medicine, and Archives of Ophthalmology.
Note: Just because you restrict a database search to bring back only "peer-reviewed" article results, keep in mind that those results will still contain editorial and opinion pieces, book reviews, news blurbs, and other types of short, non-scholarly articles not acceptable for academic research but which appear in peer reviewed publications anyway.
Trade journals focus on providing relevant, up-to-date information to members of certain professions. Business, education, health, and industry magazines often fit into the category of trade journals. Trade journals can be quite useful for research but should be carefully evaluated for authority and accuracy. Some instructors will not allow the use of trade journals for academic research—check ahead of time.
Characteristics of a Trade Journal
- Colorful, glossy covers featuring an "industrial" or trade-specific setting.
- Field-specific terminology.
- Industry-related advertising.
- Varied article length (i.e. short news blurbs to longer "feature" articles).
- Inconsistent citations.
- Inform professionals of current trends and news in fields related specifically to their business or industry area.
- Sell field-specific products.
- Often, but not always, specialists or practitioners in the fields about which they write.
Magazines appeal to a much wider audience than do peer reviewed or trade publications. They often contain short articles about current events, pop culture, or anything of general interest. They are never acceptable for academic research purposes.
Characteristics of a Popular Magazine
- Colorful, glossy images on covers and with articles.
- Substantial advertisements.
- Unlisted, unuthoritative information sources.
- Non-technical writing.
- Weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly frequency.
- Inform the public of current trends and news in various popular subject areas.
- Sell products or persuade the reader.
- Make money.
- Articles are written by staff writers, journalists, reporters—not experts or authorities.
- Sometimes articles are unsigned.