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Peer-reviewed (also called Scholarly) sources are those that have been through a refereed process prior to publication. Before an article can be published by a scholarly journal, it must go through this process to verify accuracy and to assess the validity of research methodology. While the process services as a "quality control," it is also building an archive of knowledge within a field. Scholars are always reading and responding to other scholars' research, revising their own questions and strengthening their own research with others' writing.
1. Limit your search to to only peer-reviewed or scholarly journals.
Many article databases and some search engines will allow you to automatically limit all search results to those that are peer-reviewed.
2. Look at the publication to see if it's peer-reviewed.
This information may not be stated on the article or source, but if you got to the publisher's website you will be able to find out if it goes through a peer-review process.
3. Look for key characteristics
Key characteristics of a scholarly peer-reviewed journal article include a lengthy list of citations, author is an academic or researcher in the field of study, language is disciplinary and specialized to that field of study, article includes an abstract, introduction and methodologies sections.
4. Check Ulrichsweb
Ulrichsweb is a serials database that lists publications and whether or not they are scholarly.
*Note that not all sources in a peer-reviewed journal are refereed. For example, letters to the editor, reviews and editorials are opinion pieces and not peer-reviewed.
Scholarly Sources can be found in the UW Libraries Search, in Libraries article databases, on the free web, and Google Scholar. See suggestions below for where to start your search!
The peer review process provides a standardized system to assure that quality research is being published, and that the integrity of research methodologies remains intact. By choosing to use a peer-reviewed journal article in your own research, you know that is has already been vetted by scholars, that it will have numerous citations to guide the thinking process, and that it is part of a larger conversation on the topic.
But what voices and perspectives are left out of the peer-reviewed process? Peer-reviewed journal articles are almost always written by academics, professors and researchers-- people who have had many years with training in the academy. The work of community organizers, government initiatives, and social work, for example, may be more difficult to find represented in scholarly and peer-reviewed journal articles.
This is where the free web can help you to search government websites, blog articles and community organizing websites to help you understand the work that is being done outside the academy. Try searching blogs, twitter and other public forums to read about what non-scholars are saying about your topic. This knowledge is equally as important to your process of research and inquiry as the peer-reviewed articles are.