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 | Trade | Popular Magazine
Peer-reviewed publications are focused on higher education and those working in 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.
- Have a "serious" look—no glossy photos or cover art. The articles themselves contain
only graphs or tables accompanying the uniform text.
- Very few advertisements. If present, they are publisher-specific or advertising non-profit
events because peer-reviewed publications cannot contain commercial bias.
- Contain specialized or field-specific language and jargon.
- Articles are non-biased and objective.
- Information sources are always cited—look for reference lists at the end of articles.
- Articles include abstracts, introductions, research questions, literature reviews, methods,
results, conclusions, etc.
- Issues come out less often—quarterly or semi-annually.
- 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 cover featuring an "industrial" or trade-specific setting.
- Contains understandable but field-specific terms—readers usually have some specialized
knowledge of or interest in the field.
- Advertising relates to the specific business or industry.
- Article length varies from short news blurbs to longer "feature" articles.
- Information sources not always cited.
- 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.
Popular 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 covers often advertise the contents inside.
- Feature a lot of advertising.
- Glossy photographs often accompany articles.
- Information sources are unlisted, not authoritative, or simply opinion.
- Writing is non-technical and easily understood by all readers.
- Issues are weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly.
- 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.