Peer Reviewed Journals Serve a Purpose
February 22nd, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
When you, as an online student, are introduced to the phrase “peer-reviewed journal articles,” it is likely you will first imagine finding an article that is difficult to read and may require interpretation. As you progress throughout your academic program, you will begin to realize that journal articles provide a wealth of credible information and knowledge that can add depth to your work. In How Journals Put Us Behind the Times, Denise Horn, Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Northeastern University, questions the ability of journal articles to provide current knowledge and prompts us to question the purpose and use of the peer review process.
Horn begins the article with a statement that mirrors my view of the purpose of scholarly work and publication: “Our academic standards hold that an academic work should and must be subject to scrutiny by our peers, improved by their input and ultimately add to the academic conversation. The pursuit of knowledge is a social affair and should be respected as such.” When I ask students to support their work with scholarly sources it is meant to provide a knowledge base that meaningful responses can be built upon.
I’ve found that students often post reactive statements as their initial response to discussion questions and written assignments. As a student, if you start with your opinion, and add additional opinions or information from unsubstantiated Internet sources, you haven’t fully tapped into the knowledge base that a community of subject matter experts have studied, researched, and written about – which results in generalized statements rather than well-thought out essays and posts.
Within Research Essays: Evaluating Online Sources for Academic Papers by Dennis Jerz, Associate Professor at Seton Hill University, he confirms that search engines won’t provide “meticulously-researched articles, written by full-time researchers (who spend several months on each article, while a journalist may have to write several different stories each day).” A peer reviewed journal article provides the background research you need to begin your analysis of the subject and the search for scholarly sources promotes the use of logic and reasoning skills to develop new ideas about the topic.
The use of peer-reviewed articles is especially valuable for undergraduate students as they develop an academic approach to writing and research. In News for Undergraduates, presented by the University of Texas library, they encourage students to use scholarly sources “because you’re writing as a new scholar in the field, your professors want you to enter into the dialogue of the literature of that field and peer-reviewed journal articles are the best place to find that conversation happening — outside of class, of course.” I’ve watched students’ responses progress over time as they review scholarly sources because of the tone and style of writing used within those articles. Rarely will they find statements such as “I believe” or “I think” as a method of presenting well-researched, informed writing.
David Solomon, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Office of Educational Research and Development at Michigan State University, notes that “obviously, the accuracy and quality of the material is of central importance. Peer review serves as one of the most important mechanisms for validating the information contained in these journals.” I believe that as you work with scholarly journal articles you’ll view them as a model to follow and you’ll also become aware of the importance of making valid assertions. In the academic community, it is expected that your work will be subject to multiple levels of scrutiny, ranging from a review for plagiarism to an assessment of validity.
Horn shares this perspective of the peer review process and the length of time the process takes: “the information in the article is well over a year old, perhaps two. The article itself was written a year ago. By the time it will be published, it may be two or three years old.” In contrast, Solomon indicates that “it generally takes about eighteen months for a peer-reviewed article to go from submission to publication.” What can cause a delay in the peer review process is a need for re-writes and/or clarification. If the reviewers have any concerns about validity or any other aspect of the submission, it is returned to the author for further clarification and work. This is the primary reason why an article may be several years old by the time it is published, which is Horn’s contention with the process.
What I find more important than the length of the process is the quality of the final outcome or published article. Within a presentation by the Lloyd Sealy Library it is noted that “because a peer-reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer-reviewed articles that are accepted for publication exemplify the best research practices in a field.” This should be the basis of academic discussions – research and work that has met a higher standard of publication. The peer review process establishes best practices for dissemination of research to the academic community.
As an online instructor, I will to continue to require the use of peer-reviewed journal articles as a basis for class discussions and make it a requirement that all assignments and posts use these scholarly sources to develop well-informed responses. I want students to begin their research by tapping into the subject-matter knowledge base that’s used by the academic community. I’ll also encourage them to examine the date that the article was written and/or published – and if necessary, supplement their work with credible sources of current information. The inclusion of peer reviewed articles is not meant to be the end point for your school work – it serves as is a foundation to build upon as you develop your own thoughts, ideas, solutions, and knowledge through completion of the learning activities.
As a student, how do you react to this discussion about the peer-review process? Share your feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.
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