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What Is Peer Review and Why Is Using Peer-Reviewed Sources So Important

Most first-year university students quickly learn that they should use ‘peer-reviewed’ sources and that these are somehow more trustworthy than other sources. But it is usually unclear to them what peer-reviewed sources are exactly, and if some peer-reviewed sources are better than others. This article will explain why peer-reviewed sources are generally better to use in your assignments than non–peer reviewed sources.

If you’d prefer, you can also watch our YouTube video in which Dr Lisa Lines explains what peer review is and why it is so important.

What is Peer Review?

When an academic submits an article to a journal that uses peer review, the article is reviewed by a panel of experts (or ‘referees’) in that field. The aim of scholarly peer review is to check and provide feedback on the submitting academic’s ideas and research techniques to ensure that only high-quality, credible and important articles are being published in the journal. The referees may decide the article can be published as is, published with revisions or that the article is not suitable for the journal. It is this process of oversight and screening by a panel of experts in that particular field that ensures that published peer-reviewed articles can be considered reliable.

Not All Journals Are Peer Reviewed

In particular, many online or free-to-access journals may not be peer-reviewed. There are ways to check this. Most university library databases will allow you to limit your search to return journal articles that are peer reviewed. If your university has the Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory among its databases, you can use this tool to search the journal name, to see whether it is ‘refereed’ or not. You can also try typing the journal name plus ‘information for authors’ into Google to find the journal’s information for authors. You can then scan that information for any mention of a review process.

If you use Google Scholar to find your articles, you need to be careful. You can select to search only peer-reviewed articles, but you will find that most of the results are abstracts only and that you would need to log in through your university library to access the full articles anyway. Although some peer-reviewed journals have some articles that are ‘open source’ (not requiring a subscription), you are much more likely to be able to access the high-quality sources that you need through your university’s databases.

The Varying Quality of Journals

Journals are organised into ‘tiers’ based on the journal’s standing within the field and how selective it is with the articles it accepts. The higher the journal’s reputation for top-quality research and the higher its standards for articles, the higher that journal will sit in the tier system. Many university departments and libraries will offer lists of journal rankings for students. You can ask your tutor, lecturer or librarian about this. As an example, see the Asian Studies Association of Australia journal ranking list, where A+ is the top tier and C is the lowest.

Peer-Reviewed Sources as Authoritative Sources

Articles published in peer-reviewed sources are, by definition, more reliable and of a higher standard than articles published in non–peer reviewed sources. You can trust that a peer-reviewed source has been closely reviewed by a panel of experts who have provided feedback on the ideas and research methods to the authoring academic. The resulting paper will be representative of best practice in the field and more authoritative as a source. Articles from top-tier journals are thus likely to be the best researched and most authoritative—ideal sources to utilise as the basis of your argument.

Best Practice for Your Research and Assignments

You should be accessing top-tier journals through your university’s library website and using your university’s databases to find peer-reviewed sources for your essays and assignments. While Google Scholar may be helpful in locating the abstracts of useful sources (which you can then locate through your library), the open source articles available on Google Scholar will mostly be from non–peer reviewed journals. You need to base your arguments on peer-reviewed sources, as these are reliable, well-researched and accepted as authoritative in the field.

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