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Evaluating Sources: Periodicals & Journals

How to determine which sources to use for accurate, professor-approved information.

What is a "peer-reviewed" article?

A peer-reviewed article contains information vetted by other experts in the author's field and ruled legitimate.

When a scholar finishes their article, they can try to publish it in a peer-reviewed journal. The journal's editor contacts other scholars with qualified credentials, who review the author's article to see if their findings are valid. The "peers" then send their "review" to the editor. Based on what their feedback, the editor may accept the article, ask the author to edit it, or reject the article.

Evan after passing this assessment, the editor may decide not to publish it. The competition for publishing peer-reviewed articles is fierce. The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, only publishes approximately 5% of the 5,000 submissions they receive each year.

Peer-reviewed articles aren't perfect. They may still contain biases, errors, or invalid theories. However, these articles haven't just been proofread, fact-checked, and edited; they've gone through a rigorous process of methodology testing.

Determining Scholarly Sources Tutorial

How to find out if an article is from a peer-reviewed journal

Periodical v. Magazine, or: Scholarly v. Popular

Popular sources:

  • Written by journalists for general audiences
  • Usually a newspaper or magazine
  • Undergoes editing and fact-checking
  • Pros: brief overviews of topics, human interest, highly current, easy to understand
  • Cons: not peer-reviewed, not written by experts, not a scholarly or expert perspective
  • Examples: The New York Times or National Geographic

Scholarly sources:

  • Written by authorities in the field for professional or academic audiences
  • Usually appears in scholarly journals, something difficult or expensive to have access to without your library
  • Undergoes editing, fact-checking, and often, the peer-reviewed process
  • Pros: expertise, peer-reviewed, in-depth look, professional perspective, extensive bibliography, raw data
  • Cons: sometimes long or difficult to understand because of the specialization and not always as current as popular sources
  • Examples: Contemporary Sociology or Reviews of Modern Physics

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