Chapter 8: Gathering Research and Establishing Evidence

Scholarly Peer-Reviewed Sources

We’ve talked a lot so far about how the standard source in university-level research is scholarly peer-reviewed articles. Peer-reviewed articles are the agreed-upon method of disseminating original research conducted by professors, scientists and other experts. In fact, when writing your own papers in your subject area, you should model their style and prose.

The Peer Review Process

A journal is a scholarly publication containing articles, letters to the editors and book reviews written by researchers, professors and other experts. Journals focus on a specific discipline or field of study and are published on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, etc.). The intended reading audience is other experts and not the general public. The authors are considered experts because they have PhDs and have specialized in-depth knowledge of current and past theories and years of training in research and analysis.

When a professor writes a research article, she will submit it to a peer-reviewed journal to be published. However, before the journal will accept the article, it will be reviewed by experts in the same area of study, hence, her peers. If her peers deem her research lacking validity, she will be asked to make changes or her article might be outright rejected. This is why assignments ask you to use articles published in peer-reviewed journals as they contain rigorous research and use a critical lens when picking what gets published.

It is also important to keep in mind that there are many theories or schools of thought within a discipline, and professors chose to conduct her research through one particular theory. An economics professor, for example, could write her article through a Marxist or a Neoliberal lens.  You need to develop an awareness of the different theories in your subject area as this will help you identify what lens the author is using to conduct their research. This is also important if an assignment requires sources from different theories or if you must support your thesis with sources from one particular theory.

Experts like professors often publish their evidence-based research in non-peer-reviewed sources like books and newspapers. These sources are still considered authoritative and contain expert research and are often reviewed by editors for accuracy, but they do not count as peer-reviewed sources. It is important to know the difference if your professor specifically requests that you use articles from peer-reviewed journals. Not to worry, library databases are designed to help you locate peer-reviewed articles. We will go over how to find peer-reviewed journals in the section below called “Where to Find Authoritative Research Documents”.

The Need to Remain Critical

The peer review process is the agreed-upon method for checking credibility in the academic world but it is not without its flaws. Articles with inaccurate research methods and, therefore, flawed conclusions have been published. However, thanks to the work of journalists and other diligent experts, these papers have been retracted and the research removed from the Journal. The work of researchers can also be funded by outside corporations and many journals insist that authors state their conflict of interest within their paper. If you come across an admission of conflict when reading an article, it will be up to you to evaluate whether or not you feel the research was influenced by the corporation’s own agenda.

You also need to be vigilant when using Google to find peer-reviewed journals as there are non-credible journals parading themselves as peer-reviewed. Your library provides you with access to databases that contain authorized peer reviewed journals and filters out the non-credible ones. Overall, even though the peer review process works to evaluate research, you as the reader need to remain critical and conduct your own evaluation of what you are reading.