What You Need to Know about Peer Reviewed Articles
February 2nd, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
One of the challenges you’ll face as a student is finding the right type of research for your written assignments. What is the phrase the “right type of research?” It is an indication that you will need resources that are acceptable for an academic environment, which are credible and scholarly – written by an author with established credentials for an academic audience. If you rely on a search engine, the task of finding the right research can be much more difficult as a lot of information retrieved is written for a general audience and/or written from a journalistic perspective.
Many instructors will also require you to find sources for your assignments that have been peer-reviewed, to ensure you are finding sources that support the development of a well-researched assignment. Peer-reviewed sources are most often found in journal articles that are not easily accessible through a traditional public library or online search. The good news for online students is that most schools provide access to numerous library databases, which makes finding these sources much easier because you have access to them virtually any time of the day.
Scholarly Journal Article
As a student you’ll find it helpful for the development of your school work if you understand the purpose of a scholarly journal. Peer review is typically part of the process of approving articles for publication in academic journals. What the reviewers do when reviewing an article is to investigate and challenge the author’s major assumptions and conclusions. Once the article is published you know that it has been reviewed for accuracy, credibility, and validity; and it has been accepted as information that is relevant to the field.
It is important to point out that a scholarly journal article is different from an article that appears in a professional or trade journal. Here are the key differences:
• A professional or trade journal presents articles that are written for an industry- specific audience. The article may not be peer-reviewed.
• A scholarly journal contains articles that are written for an academic audience, by subject matter experts who have strong credentials and expertise in the subject field, and the articles are always peer-reviewed.
What also makes a scholarly journal article a valuable resource for your assignments is that it includes a list of sources, which means it is more than an opinion piece – it has been well documented and the analysis provided is supported with current research in the field.
Taking the Mystery Out of Research Studies
Students who are just beginning their degree programs often think of research from the perspective they had when they were in high school. Research meant collecting or gathering information and then reporting it in a summary format. Academic research, specifically research that is found within scholarly journals, follows a formal process known as the scientific method of research, which consists of the following steps:
• Abstract: This is a brief, general overview of the research study and the best place to start when you first review the article. You can save a lot of time by reading this summary because you’ll have a good idea of its relevance to your assignment.
• Problem statement: The research problem is the specific concern or topic of interest to the researcher and establishes the direction of the study. If this topic is related to your assignment then the study and concluding results will help to inform your paper.
• Research questions: Once the researcher has determined a specific problem or issue to investigate, he or she will either develop a hypothesis (prediction of the outcome of the study) or a set of research questions (that will be answered by the study).
• Background check or literature review: Before the researcher begins the study, he or she needs to justify why the study should be conducted. The researcher will be looking for a “gap” in the research that has already been conducted. A “gap” means that there isn’t an immediate answer to the research question because there hasn’t been a prior study that addresses it. The sources used for the background review may include credible and scholarly articles, authoritative internet sources, and other written documents by experts in the field.
• Research design: The design is the actual method of collecting and analyzing data. There are three basic designs: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods – which includes qualitative and quantitative research methods.
• Conclusions: This section summarizes the entire research study and discusses the overall findings – indicating whether or not the research questions have been answered. The intended result is that new information will be made available to other researchers and students like you who need to find out more about the problems that were investigated.
• Recommendations: Quite often a research study will result in more questions than answers, and the researcher will recommend additional studies that should take place.
Once you take the mystery out of reading a research study, you’ll find that the article provides a wealth of information for your academic work – specifically the literature review, conclusion, and references sections. You’ll find current thinking and knowledge contained within the article about the subject, along with a list of sources that you can search for in the online library.
Finding Peer Reviewed Articles
When you access an online library database, the quickest way to find peer reviewed journal articles is to utilize the advanced search tab. Most databases will provide a peer-reviewed option you can select and once selected; your search results list will include peer-reviewed articles. If you are not certain about a particular source, visit the journal website to determine if it is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. If you are still uncertain, contact your instructor or librarian for assistance.
Why It Matters
The purpose of learning involves more than reading the textbook and acquiring information about a topic. You are also utilizing cognitive skills such as critical thinking and examining subjects from a perspective of logic and reasoning. When you write a paper you need information that is credible and grounded in research so that you develop new perspectives about the subject that are based upon current evidence in the field. As a student, you are expected to do more than report facts, it is expected that you will acquire knowledge and develop your own ideas and reach your own conclusions about the subject matter. Finding and utilizing peer-reviewed articles will help you meet this goal and lead to well-developed and well thought out written responses.
Are you familiar with the peer-reviewed process and its value to your academic work? Share your feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.
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