Academic texts, par 1: Peer review


An important aspect in research is to review each other’s work. Is the research done in a proper manner and are the conclutions reasonable? The normal way to do this is through peer review. Articles which have been peer reviewed are called refereed articles. This means that a text is reviewed by one or more researchers within the specific research area. The reviewer should not be too close to the author. The reviewers should judge whether the article is good enough to be published, how it could be made better – and preferably catch mistakes and errors. A decision is then made by the editor if the article will be published or not.

Peer review differs a bit from research area to research area. In some research areas peer review is not the usual where as in other areas it is unthinkable to use material which has not been peer reviewed.

How do you know when a text is peer reviewed or not? When it comes to journals it is usually stated in the journal issue, on the web page or even in the article.

  • It can be very clear on the cover of the journal, e.g. ”PLOS Biology is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal featuring research articles of exceptional significance in all areas of biological science, from molecules to ecosystems.”
  • There might be guidelines for reviewers, e.g. ”Reviewer guidelines”. The review process is probably described, more or less in detail. See e.g. PLOS Biology Guidelines for Reviewers.
  • There might be guidelines for authors, e.g. Author guidelines e.g. Human IT (in Swedish).

As shown in the Human IT case a journal may contain both peer reviewed articles and articles which have gone through an editiorial review.

Conference papers are much like journal articles: it is not clear how much the conference has reviewed the contributions. Sometimes it is only a part of the paper which has been reviewed: the abstract rather than the whole paper. This is why you should be observant when it comes to which articles and papers have been peer reviewed.

When it comes ot scientific books, monographs (usually one author on one subject/aspect of a subject) it is harder to know if they are peer reviewed or not. Swedish books are usually not peer reviewed but they go though an editorial review. There are ongoing discussions to introduce peer review for monographs. However, British and North American monographs are often peer reviewed.

Anthologies, a book with chapters from a number of authors, are a bit different. Sometimes the authors have reviewed each others contributions, sort of an internal review but anthologies might have external reviewers aswell. In this case there is an acknowlegement in the finished book.

Of course peer review is not a quality guarantee that the research is done well and well argumented for but it is the most widespread and reliable system we have to quality review research.

//Helena Francke, lecturer at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.