An editorial process characteristic of scholarly research in which experts in a field, sometimes called referees, are assigned to review and evaluate submitted article drafts (known as manuscripts). Peer review is meant to ensure that published literature is credible and adds something useful to the understanding of the topic.
Peer reviewers are typically scholars working in colleges or research institutions. Peer reviewers generally perform these reviews voluntarily, as serving as a reviewer shows that a scholar has been recognized as an expert, which can be beneficial in the promotion and tenure process. However, some argue that peer reviewing should be compensated given the amount of time and work involved.**
Reviewers seek to ensure the article includes a thorough background, accurately utilized methods, and supportable conclusions. Reviewing often occurs semi-anonymously, in which the reviewer is aware of the author's identity but the reviewer's identity is kept hidden from the author, or fully anonymously, in which neither the reviewer nor the author are aware of the other's identity. Following the submitted reviews, the author then revises their draft accordingly before it's accepted for publication.
While peer-reviewed journals are scholarly sources, not all scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. See Is It Peer-Reviewed? for guidance on determining a scholarly journal's peer review status.
Peer review as a process has been a regular component of scholarly research since the mid-20th century. As with any system in which human judgment is concerned, scholarly publishing and the peer review process are subject to bias in terms of what gets published and what does not.*
Some in the academic field have also debated in recent years about the labor of peer review and whether reviewers should be paid for their time.**
A sample of the discussion about these issues can be found in the articles listed below.
* Peer review and bias
Baldwin, M. (2018). Scientific autonomy, public accountability, and the rise of “peer review” in the Cold War United States. Isis, 109(3), 538–558. https://doi.org/10.1086/700070
Kwon, D. (2022). The rise of citational justice: How scholars are making references fairer. Nature, 603(7902), 568–571. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00793-1
** Paying for peer review
Brainard, J. (2021, March 1). The $450 question: Should journals pay peer reviewers? ScienceInsider. https://www.science.org/content/article/450-question-should-journals-pay-peer-reviewers
by North Carolina State University Libraries
This is partly a question about identifying sources, as the peer review process is a characteristic of scholarly (or academic) journal articles. Research articles published in scholarly journals are usually peer reviewed. The only items published in a scholarly journal that are not going to have gone through peer review will be letters to the editor, editorials, book reviews, and the like.
However, on occasion you will also come across a scholarly journal that does not use peer review, or you might also want to make sure about the peer review status of a publication. One good method is to check the publication information in Library databases. For example, Academic Search Premier and other EBSCOhost databases as well as those from ProQuest include publication details for every journal, magazine and newspaper they include in their collections.
Note that your list of search results will include icons that indicate the type of document, as seen in the image below:
When you have clicked into a document, pay attention to identifying characteristics such as the title and abstracts to learn more about the document.
While these characteristics are helpful in figuring out whether you've found a peer-reviewed source, you can also click on the publication title for more details about the journal, including peer review status.
Similar to EBSCOhost, ProQuest gives you a descriptor to help identify source type, as well as links to more information about the publications.