A “peer-reviewed” or “refereed” journal is one in which the articles it contains have been examined by people with credentials in the article’s field of study before it is published. A more formal definition is:

"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. The numbers and kinds of manuscripts sent for review, the number of reviewers, the reviewing procedures and the use made of the reviewers’ opinions may vary, and therefore each journal should publicly disclose its policies in the Instructions to Authors for the benefit of readers and potential authors."  (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts submitted to Biomedical Journals, 2001)

The peer review process can take many forms. These are:

  • Double Blind or Blind Peer Review: submitted manuscripts are sent outside of the journal’s publishing or sponsoring organization for review by external reviewers (usually two, sometimes as many as four). In Double Blind, neither the author nor the reviewers know each other’s identities, thus ensuring impartiality. 

  • Editorial Board Peer Review: submitted manuscripts 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 manuscripts 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.  

 

The editor of the journal receives the manuscripts with comments back from the expert reviewer(s) and forwards them to the author with a summary recommendation. There are generally four different types of recommendations: (1) publication as is; (2) needs revision to correct errors or answer certain questions; (3) does not fit the focus of the journal or (4) not suitable for publication. It is this scrutiny and review/revision that sets peer-reviewed journals apart from popular magazines that limit themselves to just “fact-checking.”

Clues to whether or not a particular journal is peer-reviewed:

  • There is a description of the journal’s peer review process in its instructions to authors or manuscript submission guidelines.
  • Notice of an independent editorial review board in the journal’s front matter. The academic or scholarly affiliation of each member of the board is listed.
  • The journal is listed in Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory “refereed” section (print edition located at the Reference Desk and also available online)

For more information see: