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How Scientific and Technical Information Works

Learn everything you need to know about scientific literature, including how to find, understand, use, and ultimately create your own.

Peer Review in a Nutshell

Peer review is a formal process used for reviewing and editing scientific writing for publication. It is an essential component of the scholarly publishing process. When done correctly, it is a vital part of building trust and maintaining high standards of quality for published research. Here are the main steps in the process:

  1. The author submits their work to a journal.
  2. The journal's editor reads it and decides whether to bring it under review. At this stage she's looking for first indications not just of the quality of the article and the science underpinning it, but also of the relevance of the research to the field and to the journal itself.
  3. If the editor wants to go ahead with the article, she'll send it to 3 to 5 of the author's "peers," who work in the same field. They are asked to "review" the article.
    1. The review is often "double blind" which means the author doesn't know who the reviewers are, and the reviewers don't know who the author is.
  4. Each reviewer assesses the article for a number of factors, including the overall quality of the author's study or experiment, the soundness of the results, whether the author's conclusions or discoveries are meaningful to the field, and how the writing can be improved. 
  5. Reviewers provide feedback to the journal editor, including a recommendation (accept, accept with revisions, or reject), and suggestions for revisions to the article. The editor aggregates all of this information and shares it with the author.
  6. There may be multiple rounds of revisions, as the author makes updates and the editor accepts or rejects them. This is often the lengthiest part of the publication process.
  7. Eventually, if all goes well, the editor will eventually decide the article is ready to be accepted. When it is published, it will be considered by everyone to be a peer reviewed article.

What Gets to Be Peer Reviewed?

Most types of sources are not peer reviewed in the formal sense. However, almost all sources go through some kind of review process to ensure the quality of the literature and the science it's describing.
Source type Peer reviewed?
Research article in a peer-reviewed journal
Chapter in an edited volume or "scholarly book" 1
Dissertations 2

Conference proceedings




Monographs (books by individual authors or groups rather than collections of essays)


Book reviews published in peer-reviewed journals


Editorials, letters to the editor, and other short pieces featured in peer-reviewed journals


1 Book chapters published in edited volumes may or may not have gone through a peer review process. This is dependent on the policies of the publishers of the book. Look for information about their review process on their website.

2 Dissertations go through a rigorous review as part of the author's defense process for their PhD. If the author is successful, they are usually able to publish their dissertation through the university's repository, but they may also choose to submit parts of it for publication in academic journals or other forums, in which case it would undergo further reviews, including peer review.

3 Conference proceedings may go through anything from a brief review for publishability, all the way to a traditional peer review process. This depends on the organization responsible for hosting the conference and publishing the proceedings. Look for information about their review process on their website

Is My Article Peer Reviewed?

To determine whether your article is peer reviewed, you need to find out if the journal it is published in is peer reviewed (also known as "refereed"). There are a few quick ways to do this: 

  1. The most straightforward way is to locate the journal's website online through a quick Google search, and check for a page or section on their editorial process. Usually, journals that are peer reviewed provide this information up-front on their websites, because they want their readers to know what kind and caliber of publication they are.
  2. At the library, we have access to a tool called Ulrichsweb that will tell searchers directly whether or not a journal is peer reviewed. Ulrich's also provides extensive bibliographic information about scholarly journals and publications that can help you to understand more about their scope and history. Search the title of the journal, (NOT the name of the article) in Ulrich's to find out if it is refereed: .

Learn More About Issues Related to Peer Review

Types of Peer Review (from PLoS)

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