What is a peer-reviewed journal article?

Scholarly literature has a process for ensuring high quality in what is printed. This means that you can read scholarly material with high confidence that it is accurate and represents good thinking in that field.

If I’m an author and want my article to appear in a scholarly journal, I submit it to an editor for that journal. The editor is the first line of defense and can reject manuscripts of obviously low quality. If my article is approved by the editor, copies go out to recognized experts in the field. They are generally researchers or faculty members at reputable colleges, universities, and research institutions (private or government). These people are my peers. They review the article and respond to the editor. The are usually three responses:

  • The article is fine as it stands and can be added to other articles for future publication.
  • The article is not acceptable and should not be published under any circumstances.
  • The article has some flaws and may be publishable with some changes. They may also make specific criticisms to be corrected before publication.

The editor then lets me know what the reviewers thought of it. If most reviewers feel that it needs some changes, I can decide whether to make the changes or submit the article somewhere else. If I make the changes, I then send the article back to the editor. The revised version may go back to the reviewers, who again respond, or it may be added to the pool to be published in the future.

This process takes some time. Some journals give the date submitted and date accepted in the article itself when it’s published. Look for it to see how long the gap is between submission and acceptance.

You can be confident that a peer-reviewed journal article is substantially accurate in the information that it reports, the methods used and the conclusions drawn. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t open to criticism by other researchers. Others might be doing the same or similar work and have different results.

A “refereed” article is the same as “peer reviewed.” The referees are my peers who reviwed the article. Magazine articles are written by professional journalists and writers and reviewed only by an editor.

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