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Peer Review

Peer review is integral to scholarly research.  It is the process that decides which scholarly articles are published in journals and which articles are not. The peer review process begins with an author or group of authors submitting an article they have written for possible publication in a scholarly journal. The publishers of the scholarly journal will send the article to one or more experts working in the same field as the journal's topical focus (i.e. cellular biology or environmental biology etc.). These experts are called peer reviewers or sometimes called referees.  They evaluate the quality of the written article and the research by asking questions like:

  • was the literature review comprehensive in order to properly contextualize the current study and demonstrate its relevance to the field;
  • was the research design appropriate for the hypothesis being tested;
  • was the data collected sufficient; 
  • do the conclusions follow logically from the results of the experiment?

Only after passing through peer review will an article be published.  The process can take months, but this level of scrutiny is intended to ensure the relevancy, integrity, accuracy, and objectivity of published research that comprises the scholarly record.

Types of Peer Review

 There are several forms of peer review.  They are listed here from the most to the least rigorous:

  • Double Blind or Blind Peer Review: Submitted research articles are sent to peer reviewers outside of the journal’s publishing or sponsoring organization.  In Double Blind, neither the author nor the reviewers know each other’s identities to support objectivity and impartiality.

  • Editorial Board Peer Review: Submitted research articles are reviewed by an internal board of editors and not solely by one editor. Author’s identity may be known or unknown to the reviewing editors.

  • Open Peer Review: Submitted research articles are reviewed by experts, and both the experts and the author are aware of each other’s identity. Sometimes authors are encouraged to suggest possible reviewers.  


Adapted from the University of Minnesota Bio-Medical Library Research Guide

Once the peer-reviewers have completed their review, the journal editor forwards the comments to the author with a decision of whether to publish the article.

  1. Publish as is.
  2. Revise to correct errors or clarify certain points (publication is not guaranteed if the peer-reviewers do not accept the revisions).
  3. Not suitable for publication (there may be many reasons the article cannot be published).

It is important to note that the phrase "peer review" is sometimes used to refer to an entire journal and at other times used to refer to a specific article. Each one means something different, which is discussed below.

Peer Review at the Journal & Article Level

Peer Review at the Journal Level

Phrases like peer reviewed journalscholarly journalacademic journal and refereed journal are used interchangeably to distinguish this type of publication from more popular sources like magazines and newspapers.  Check out the Popular vs. Scholarly Research Guide for more information on identifying those types of sources. 


"A peer-reviewed journal is one that has submitted most of its published articles for review by experts who are not part of the editorial staff."  (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors , 2001)

The keyword in this definition is most.  This means that not everything in a peer-reviewed journal has gone through the peer review process.  You have to look at the individual article to determine if it has been peer-reviewed even if it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Peer Review at the Article Level

Select each article type below to see if it is peer-reviewed.

Check Your Understanding of Peer-Review