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A Guide to Geography Research

What is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal?

For college or post-graduate level research, you'll be expected to know about and use peer-reviewed sources, such as articles from scholarly journals. In a scholarly journal, articles submitted for publication are critically reviewed by other scholars (peers). These reviewers might reject the article, or require that the author make corrections before the manuscript is accepted for publication. The peer-review process helps ensure that only high-quality, accurate articles get published.

The "peers" who evaluate articles are called referees; sometimes you will hear the phrase refereed journal rather than peer-reviewed journal -- but they mean the same thing.

See below for advice on how to confirm that an article has been peer-reviewed -- remember that just because a journal is peer reviewed does not guarantee that all articles in it are peer reviewed. Usually only the articles reporting on new research findings are peer reviewed.


Confirm that an article is peer-reviewed -- Part 1:

First, determine whether the article is published in a peer-reviewed journal. There are two ways to determine whether a journal has a peer-review process in place (which means that it is a scholarly source):

1. Do a Google search for the journal's website and then look for information on the site about whether the journal has a peer-review process. You might need to check for links to "Author Guidelines," or "Instructions for Authors," or "About this Journal" to see whether a peer-review process is mentioned. 2. Look up the journal title (not the article title) in UlrichsWeb Global Serials Directory. Once you find an entry for the journal title in UlrichsWeb, look at the symbols on the left. If you see a symbol for a referee shirt like those worn by sports referees, this means the journal is refereed, which is another way of saying it is peer reviewed.
when you get to a journal's website, look for links to "author guidelines" or "about this journal." Often these links will lead you to information about the peer-review process. referee shirt Ulrich's logo

Confirm that an article is peer-reviewed -- Part 2:

Next, look at the article to see what elements it has in it, and consult the table below to make your final determination:

Peer-reviewed: Not peer-reviewed:
  • articles reporting on original research (primary research articles): these articles usually include the following elements: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusions.
  • articles providing a review of the current state of research (scholarly review articles); these articles are often several pages long or longer and tend to have large bibliographies.
  • letters to the editor
  • book reviews
  • news
  • comments


Why are some of the articles in a peer-reviewed journal NOT peer-reviewed?

The peer-review process take a lot of time and effort, so it's reserved for articles where accuracy is essential -- reports of new and original research, or summaries of research. Other researchers are going to use and build upon the data and information reported in those articles, so it's important that it is accurate.

For articles such as book reviews, accuracy is not as important (after all, book reviews and editorials are highly influenced by personal opinions). Therefore, these articles are checked for grammar by an editor but don't undergo the rigorous peer-review process.

Primary research articles vs review articles

A primary research article presents a first report of original research. It's written by the people who performed the research, and it's usually written for other researchers in the same field. 

Typical organization of a primary research article: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References cited. This formal structure is sometimes referred to by its acronym: IMRaD.

Example of a primary research article: Bramhanwade, K.; Shende, S.; Bonde, S.; Gade, A.; Rai, M. Fungicidal activity of Cu nanoparticles against Fusarium causing crop diseases. Environmental Chemistry Letters 2016,14, 229-235.

The structure is designed to be a practical and efficient means of delivering information. It also ensures that key points will be covered in the article, including:

•a description of how the research was conducted (so it can be repeated and verified)
•the research findings of the study
•the significance of those findings.


A scholarly review article is a special type of peer-reviewed article that provides an overview of an area of research; it describes major advances, discoveries, and ongoing debates in that field. It can be very useful to look for review articles if you are new to an area of research.

Typical organization of a scholarly review article:  Title, Abstract, Introduction, There might be a description of the methods used to gather the articles for the paper, Various subject headings that describe the subject reviewed, References cited

Example of a scholarly review article: Kasana, R. C.; Panwar, N. R.; Kaul, R. K.; Kumar, P. Biosynthesis and effects of copper nanoparticles on plants. Environmental Chemistry Letters 2017,15, 233-240.