When a professor requires only peer-reviewed articles as sources for a research paper, this can cause a bit of panic for new scholars. Peer review is the process by which a scholar gets an article approved in a journal before publication, with a select group of “reviewers,” or peer experts, assessing the validity of articles. This ensures that only the best articles can be published in the field. As a researcher and a student, these are the types of resources that you want for your paper. The key is learning to distinguish peer-reviewed articles from nonscholarly works.

Online Library Databases

A library’s online database is the best place to search for scholarly, peer-reviewed articles. This is especially the case when using a university database, because you have access to journals that the school already subscribes to and pays for. When conducting your research, look for an advanced filtering search option that says "peer-reviewed." Sometimes a search for "scholarly articles" will also bring up selections that are peer-reviewed. If you’re looking for a specific journal, you can also filter the results in this way online or ask your school’s librarian for hard copies of the journal.

Internet Search Engines

Not all scholarly journals may be accessed within a library database, and not all students have access to online university libraries. However, you may still be able to research for peer-reviewed articles using your usual Internet search engine. Type in “scholarly article” or “peer-reviewed” with your keyword to find reputable results. You might also consider signing up for accounts with JSTOR, ProQuest and EBSCO for easier search results.

How to Identify Peer-Reviewed Articles

Some databases don’t let you filter results to search only for peer-reviewed articles. In such cases, it’s up to you as a researcher to determine whether the article in question is indeed peer-reviewed. One of the first clues is the journal itself -- reputable publications are sponsored by universities, scholars and professional associations. Often, a journal will state on its website that it uses the process of peer review. The website will also state the lead editors, as well as the names of the reviewers. If you’re looking at a hard copy of a journal, the same information is often included within the first few pages.

Finding Clues in the Article

The author may also lead you to other peer-reviewed articles that might assist your research. This is especially helpful if an article isn’t quite what you’re looking for, but one of the articles in the author’s bibliography is. Peer-reviewed articles can’t be published if other peer-reviewed articles aren’t cited, too. The author’s biography at the end of the article can also provide clues as to whether the piece is peer-reviewed. Such journal articles are only accepted from students, scholars and other experts in the field, which is something the biography will state. If you have very little information about the journal or author, you may still be able to identify the reputability of the article by looking at its structure. A peer-reviewed article has an introduction with a thesis discussing new research or methods the author will discuss, as well as the incorporation of independent research.