Q. What is the difference between scholarly and peer reviewed journals?


For brief instruction on scholarly vs. peer reviewed journals, please see the Library's Scholarly vs. Peer Reviewed Journals quick tutorial video.

A scholarly publication is regarded as scholarly if it is authored by experts, for experts. The publication is academic in focus as it reports original research (experimentation), research methodology or theory. Generally, scholarly journals are targeted for professional or academic researchers and provide detailed analysis concentrating on a single discipline or academic field.  The publisher is typically a professional association or an academic press. Not all scholarly journals use a peer-review process.

Peer-Review Process

Prior to publication, articles are submitted and go through a rigorous assessment that involves review and approval by the author’s peers (experts in the same subject area). The actual evaluations are similar to editing notes, where the author receives detailed and constructive feedback from the peer experts. However, these reviews are not made available publicly. For an example peer review of a fictitious article, click here. Peer reviewed journals publish articles only if they have passed through the official editorial process. The peer review and evaluation system is used to safeguard, maintain, and improve the quality of scholarly materials published in serials.

It is important to keep in mind that not all scholarly journals go through the peer review process.  Checking the Scholarly/Peer Reviewed limiter in the Library's Roadrunner Search or EBSCOhost Databases, will result in scholarly journal articles, most of which are peer-reviewed. However, Roadrunner and EBSCOhost do not make the distinction between scholarly and peer reviewed journal articles in their results.

For example, a subject search for leadership AND education with the scholarly/peer-reviewed limit checked results in an article from Democracy & Education, a non-peer reviewed publication.

ProQuest, on the other hand, does make the distinction and has separate limiters for scholarly and peer reviewed content. And still other databases (such as SpringerLink, Taylor & Francis, Wiley Online, etc.) include only peer reviewed journals and, therefore, do not have check boxes to limit to this type of content.

Check for Peer-Review Verification

To alleviate any confusion, the Library recommends using the Ulrichsweb database to determine whether or not a particular journal is peer reviewed/refereed. To access Ulrichsweb, go to the Library’s home page and then click on A-Z Databases. Returning to our example above, we can determine that Democracy & Education not peer-reviewed by checking the publication title in Ulrichsweb, as shown below. The  black and white striped referee shirt icon indicates that it is peer-reviewed.

For further information about how to use Ulrichsweb (including instructional screenshots), please see the Library's FAQ here.

It is also important to keep in mind that just because a journal is peer reviewed does not guarantee that all articles in it are included in the peer review process. Some article types in a peer reviewed journal, such as news items, editorials and book and article reviews, may not be peer reviewed.

Faculty and students will need to determine for themselves whether or not they are reading a book review, editorial, introduction, etc. coming from a peer reviewed journal versus an actual research study, for example. The databases will typically not make this distinction for you. For further characteristics of primary/scholarly studies, please see the Library's Academic and Popular Resources page.

  • Last Updated Oct 31, 2018
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  • Answered By NCU Library

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