How to know if an article is peer reviewed

The short answer to know if an article/paper is peer-reviewed is to examine where it has been published. If it is published in a peer-reviewed journal, then the paper is considered peer-reviewed (otherwise, they would not have published it).

There are some exceptions to this, for example, you may have an editorial or book reviews that may not be peer-reviewed. However, generally speaking, if you do a simple library search / database search for the journal title of the paper that you are reading, you should be able to find out quickly if that specific journal uses a peer-review process. If you are a student and need help to determine if a paper is peer-reviewed, you can always ask the author or the librarian working at your university. However, the easiest way to find out the answer is to check Google Scholar for the reference of the paper that you are reading, and then optionally check the journal website to read more about their review process. Many papers have a refereed icon displayed as well on the actual paper which gives you some visual indication that it has been reviewed by the research community. The actual process of the review depends on the research discipline. Please note that although websites like Google Scholar and ResearchGate are very useful in finding out reference information, sometimes they may display incorrect information as well. The most up to date info about the paper should be displayed on the actual journal website. 

Peer review  is a widely recognized practice in the academic community when it comes to scholarly articles. We have covered by the peer-review process is important in a previous post (see why is peer review important ) and why it is important not just for the research community but also for the general public. Many crucial scholarly works are usually subjected to a review, one way or another.

Despite its widespread use, not all scholarly works are peer-reviewed. Thus, for student researchers and other scholars who are sometimes interested in only peer-reviewed articles, it is necessary to quickly identify the location of a journal article’s peer review information, be it a print or an electronic journal. This will save you precious time that you can deploy for other scholarly activities.

What is peer review?

If you are a college or post-graduate student, not only would you have come across the term peer review but you would also have studied peer-reviewed papers such as those in scholarly journals (and you probably may have crafted one or more). Many scholarly works such as theses and journal articles containing original or new research require a compulsory critical assessment and evaluation (or review) by a group of experts (or “peers”) in the particular field, based on certain strict scientific criteria or guidelines. 

The main purpose of peer review is to ensure that the quality of information contained in the submitted manuscripts meets the standards expected by the publisher. Therefore, it can be said that peer review helps to ensure that academic papers and publications are of a very high standard. Papers that do not meet the expected standards can be rejected by these peers. They may also ask for such articles to be amended before being finally accepted.  
The peers who review articles are called referees. This is why some journals adopt the term “refereed journal” rather than “peer-reviewed journal.”

Peer review  steps for journal articles / scholarly journal article 

The peer-review process for journal articles can be broken down into the 10 steps mentioned below. However, these steps are not rigid but can vary slightly between journals. 

Article submission 
Article submission is the beginning of the peer review journey. Upon successfully completing the article, the article writer then sends it to the intended journal for peer review and eventual publication, either on the internet or in print (or both). Be sure to adhere to any submission or author guidelines provided by the journal. 

Assessment of the article by editors
This involves an examination of the article to see if it has followed the journal’s author guidelines. At this stage, the quality of the information or knowledge conveyed by the article is not important.
 
Appraisal of the article by the journal’s editor-in-chief 
It is at this stage that the editor in chief of the journal scrutinizes the quality of the information or knowledge conveyed by the article. The aim is to determine if the article meets all the standards set by the journal. An article that does not conform to such standards is usually rejected.

Associate Editor (AE) assigned for the peer review
Though this step is not found in every journal, some of them have the capacity to delegate the peer review process to an associate editor.  

Sending invitations to qualified reviewers
The editor in charge of the article’s peer review invites persons deemed to possess the necessary knowledge or expertise needed to review the article more thoroughly, according to the journal’s pre-determined standards. Though most journals will not require more than a couple of external reviewers, the number can vary from journal to journal. 

Acceptance or declining of Invitations 
In this stage, those invited to be part of the article’s review take some time to finally decide on whether to accept or turn down the invitation based on personal reasons such as availability and others. If the journal permits, an invited potential reviewer who declines to honor the invitation can recommend somebody else to take his or her place.  

Review of the article
Each of the reviewers independently studies the article critically and holistically. This is usually a meticulous exercise that takes some time and is not done in a hurry. Based on this rigorous scrutiny, each reviewer then comes up with a verdict for the journal – to either accept or reject the article or ask for it to be revised (usually classified as minor or major revisions) before it can be considered again. 

Evaluation of the independent reviews by the editor
All the expert reviews are assessed and then evaluated by the editor assigned to oversee the process with a view to arriving at a rational decision. Where the verdicts of the reviewers conflict, the editor can invite another expert reviewer to help make things clearer.

Final Decision conveyed to the article’s author
Whatever the final decision taken by the journal through the editor is subsequently communicated to the author of the article at this stage, usually by email. It often includes comments by the reviewers.

Follow up 
The reviewers are communicated the journal’s final decision through emails or letters. An accepted article will be sent for publication while a rejected article goes back to the writer. An article meant to undergo either minor or major revisions also returns to the writer with helpful comments from the reviewers that should guide the writer to make the necessary revisions.

New versions of revised articles should be made available to the reviewers upon completion. But for minor revisions, this may not be necessary if the editor can vet the changes.  

Things to know about peer-reviewed articles

Who is the author?
Here, the emphasis is on whether a scholar or researcher actually wrote the paper.  One way to ascertain this is to check whether the author has attached his or her academic qualifications beside his/her name (e.g., BSc, MSc, Ph.D., etc).
Another useful clue is the author’s professional or occupational background. For example, is he/she (presently or previously) a teaching staff in a higher institution? Does he/she belong to any professional organizations (e.g., the American Economic Association, etc)?

What is the story and who is it meant for?
As noted above, peer-reviewed papers usually focus on original or new research that seeks to offer further insight on concepts/phenomena, relationships, and topics of interest. The aim is mostly to extend the frontiers of human knowledge. Therefore, the primary audience is often the academic community, particularly stakeholders in that particular discipline of study. Such papers are often eventually published in scholarly outlets such as journals. 

Does it follow an academic format?
Academic papers such as theses and journal articles have a strict pre-determined structure that every student or scholar is mandated to follow. For instance, they are usually divided into chapters or sections and include, an abstract, background of the study, problem statement, literature review, research method, research findings, discussion of findings, conclusion, recommendations, references, appendices, etc.

In most of these academic papers, it is also mandated that contributors adhere to specific style guides (e.g., APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago/Turabian, and others). Failure to comply with any of these demands may lead to a rejection of the paper.
 
Is it written with a formal tone and language?
All academic disciplines have a formalized language that includes terminologies and technical jargon which captures the concepts, principles, theories, and laws in such fields. This is why discipline-specific dictionaries (e.g., law dictionary, economics dictionary, etc) have been developed to explain most of these terms which may sometimes be difficult for those outside particular disciplines to understand.   

To summarize, a scholarly, peer-reviewed article will use formal language and have an objective point of view as well as a logical, sometimes argumentative tone. It may also include various citations to mostly published research that support (and dispute) its claims.

Checking an article’s peer review information
To know if an article is peer-reviewed, just search for the journal information in the relevant area as explained below: 

If the article is part of a printed journal, check for the peer review information on the front page of the journal

If it is part of an electronic journal, visit the journal’s home page and click on the “About this journal” or “Notes for Authors” link after which you read through the page for any peer review information. Below is the peer review information from the British Journal of Sociology.

Source: University of Liverpool Library

If the article is published in an academic journal, then chances are that it is peer-reviewed. But with so many journals out there having varying rules and standards, it would be ideal to precisely determine if a journal is peer-reviewed or otherwise. One place you can find this information is on the “About Us” page of the online versions of these journals.

If the journal containing the article is indexed in one of the many online databases available these days, the database is also likely to provide the journal’s peer review information on its “publication details page” such as the EBSCOHost example below:

Source: Eastern Kentucky University Libraries

Conclusion

Peer review  is a popular concept in education. A lot of academic papers usually pass through the peer-review process. The main purpose of peer reviews is to ensure that submitted manuscripts meet the quality standard of the publisher. Despite its popularity, not all scholarly works are peer-reviewed. 

To know if an article is peer-reviewed, just search for the journal information in the relevant area.  For printed journals, the peer review information is usually found on the journal’s front page. For digital journals, you can find this information on the “About this journal” or “Notes for Authors” page. Finally, for a journal that is part of a database, the peer review status can be seen on its publication details page.