What is the importance of peer review

What actually is peer review?

How to find “peer-reviewed” articles for your first term paper

(Photo credit: 3844328 on pixabay)

What is a “peer-reviewed” journal article?

In your first seminar paper, you may only cite scientific journal articles with “peer review”. In case you are wondering what that means, you are not alone.

I was working as an intern in my university library and I still remember the day when a freshman student came to my information desk and gave me a piece of paper with the request Peer-reviewed journals gave and asked where she could find it.

The mistaken expectation is that you only have to go to one area of ​​the library, leaf through a few specialist journals, and find only peer-reviewed scientific articles for your own work. Today, however, fewer and fewer libraries subscribe to printed journals. That is why you would rather look for articles for your work in a database.
Before we take a closer look, let's clarify what peer-reviewed journals are.

What does peer review mean?

A peer-reviewed journal article was selected, reviewed and approved for publication by experts in the author's field.
The peer review process is often “double-blind”. This means that the reviewers do not know the identity of the author and neither do the authors that of the reviewers. Usually there are two or three reviewers. They add comments for the author and suggest corrections. The editor of the journal checks that the author has taken the suggested changes into account when deciding whether to publish the article. This process can be very time consuming. But it is designed to ensure the highest possible quality of a published article.

Where can you find peer-reviewed articles?

If, like the student at the beginning of my story, you are looking for “peer-reviewed” articles for the first time, where can you find them?

Start your search on your library's website. Many university libraries offer a search portal there that searches both the library catalog and licensed databases at the same time. If your library has such a portal, just enter the search terms for your work and you will likely find many hits to which you have access.

If your library doesn't have a search portal, you'll usually find a link to Databases Find. Once the databases are sorted by subject area, choose the area that best fits the topic of your work. If you are not sure which subject area to assign your work to or if your work is interdisciplinary, opt for a database such as EBSCO’s Academic Search. Some databases have Advanced search a feature to limit your search to “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals” or “Peer Reviewed” articles. Other databases offer you a filter option in order to limit your hit list to “peer-reviewed” articles. Pay attention to such features.

Especially if the databases you have searched do not have the ability to restrict you to “peer-reviewed” articles, first check what types of sources you have found. At first glance, an article may appear to be out of a “peer-reviewed” magazine. At second glance, however, it comes from a newspaper or a popular magazine or magazine. Even if you have found an article in a database that has been published in a scientific journal, it is not automatically a "peer-reviewed" article. Reviews or editorials, for example, have not gone through a peer review process.

Most of the “peer-reviewed” articles can be found online in databases, as mentioned above. But since many students also have the requirement not to use Internet sources for their first work, this is understandably confusing. Because databases are only accessible online. Nonetheless, “peer-reviewed” journal articles found in specialist databases are scientific sources. You can quote them without worry.
If you are ever unsure, ask your professor or supervisor of your thesis.

Are preprints "peer-reviewed"? And what are preprints actually?

In your database research you may come across articles that are marked with one of the following terms: “pre-print publication”, “working paper”, “online first”, or “Epub ahead of print”. Each of these terms means that an article has not yet gone through the entire publication process and thus has not yet appeared in the printed edition of a magazine. If you see “pre-print”, “preprint” or “working paper” on an article, it usually means that the article is not “peer-reviewed”.

In natural science subjects, mathematics and physics, preprints are more present than in other disciplines. The main reasons for this are to get quick feedback before submitting to a publisher, claim the results before someone else does, and share the results as soon as possible so that other scholars can use them.

When you see “online first” or “Epub ahead of print” in an article database, it usually means the article was accepted and peer reviewed. The article is just waiting to be published in the print edition of the magazine. These articles are known as postprints.

Are you allowed to quote a preprint article in your first seminar paper? If your requirement is to cite only "peer-reviewed" articles, you should not cite a preprint as it has not undergone a peer-reviewed process. However, you can quote a postprint as long as you mark it accordingly. To add a postprint to Citavi, right-click in the field year and choose Publication is still in print. Enter the date of the article in the field Available online from a. The citation style you have chosen will automatically fill in the correct label.

Before you submit your work, check to see if the item has been printed in the meantime. To do this, click on the blue field label DOI and choose Overwrite title information. If you are now in the fields vintage, year and Issue number See entries, the article has been published.

Better to double-check that everything you cited is up-to-date and corresponds to the published version of the article.

"Peer-reviewed" journal articles in Citavi

As soon as you have found “peer-reviewed” journals online, you can easily transfer them to Citavi. But what if you use Citavi online research and you have no filter options for peer review or not?

We recommend that you import the interesting hits and give them the task Check assign. Before you obtain the full texts of the articles, go through all the titles with this task. Try to use the following criteria to evaluate whether the article is "peer-reviewed" or not:

  • First, check that the source is a magazine article. Many magazines have the term "journal" or "magazine" as part of their title, but many do not. The best indication is when the box vintage has an entry. Preprints and some journal articles do not have this entry. A DOI is also a good indication that you have a journal article in front of you. However, DOIs are sometimes given for conference contributions. If you see a full date or month and year instead of just a year, and the article is only a page or two in length, you are likely looking at a newspaper or magazine article.
  • Then check the index card titlewhether there is an indication of the source in the field Title additions or note gives. If you see “Journal Article” or something similar there, you are on the right track. But there could also be “Letter to the editor”, “Letter”, “Editorial”, “Book review”, etc. These types of documents are not "peer-reviewed".
  • Next, switch to the tab content and read the abstract if available. Does the article seem to include an experiment or an analysis by the authors? Then this is very likely a "peer-reviewed" article.

This process will help you sort out those sources that are most likely not peer-reviewed. In some cases you won't find out until after reading the full text of the article. If you are ever unsure, ask your library for help. Librarians are experts in distinguishing between different types of documents.

Are there any weaknesses in the peer review process?

In 2018, three authors intentionally submitted fake journal articles to peer-reviewed journals. They wanted to find out if their work would be published. Amazingly, 7 out of 20 articles were accepted for publication. The magazines that published the fake articles have since withdrawn them.

The hoax received public attention and sparked much peer-reviewed discussion, both among and outside of academia. Even if the alleged aim of the authors was to expose the shortcomings in scientific practice in certain cultural studies disciplines, which they called "grievance studies", the hoax also shows that peer review is not a perfect system.

While this case was one of the largest in the media for peer review, scientists have long since emphasized that the system does not protect against statistical fraud or against drawing wrong conclusions based on falsified data. Because the reviewers normally have no access to the authors' research data. To make matters worse, some journals allow authors to pass their names on to potential reviewers. It was discovered that authors used fake email addresses or names and then rated their own work.

Do these issues mean that it would be best if we should get rid of the peer review process altogether? There are activities to actually reform the process. Among other things, the initiative of the open peer review, in which the reviewers are no longer anonymous.

Even if such changes to the system never find widespread acceptance, we should be aware that abuse only occurs in a very small percentage of all published scientific articles. Undoubtedly, peer review could in some ways be improved. Overall, it has proven to be a very good system for ensuring that only high quality scientific papers are published.

Do you have any questions or would you like to give us your opinion on the subject of peer review?
We'd love to hear from you on our Facebook page!


About Jennifer Schultz

Jennifer Schultz is the only American on the Citavi team, but her colleagues (usually) don't blame her for that. Her passion for supporting scientists in their work brought her a successful degree. But she also likes learning difficult languages, being out in nature and sticking her nose into a book.