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Workshop for McNair Summer Program

What is Peer Review?



From  Penn State University Libraries 


Identifying emotions:

  • What are your honest opinions regarding the topic?
  • Have you addressed your internal biases?
  • Make an all-inclusive list of counter-opinions or counter-arguments.
Finding unbiased resources:
  • Conduct a general knowledge overview.
  • Search for information in : encyclopedias, wikis, dictionaries, etc.
Intellectual courage:



  • Who is the author (may be individual or organization) and/or publisher?
  • What are the credentials and affiliation or sponsorship of any named individuals or organizations?
  • How objective, reliable, and authoritative are they?
  • Have they written other articles or books?
  • Is/Are the author(s) listed with contact information (street address, e-mail)?
  • Do they specialize in publishing certain topics or fields?
Purpose/Point of view of source 
  • Does the author have an agenda beyond education or information?
  • What can be said about the content, context, style, structure, completeness and accuracy of the information provided by the source?
  • Are any conclusions offered? If so, based on what evidence and supported by what primary and secondary documentation?
  • What is implied by the content?
  • Are diverse perspectives represented?
  • Is the content relevant to your information needs?
  • Why was the information provided by the source published?
  • What are the perspectives, opinions, assumptions and biases of whoever is responsible for this information?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is anything being sold?
  • Does the publisher have an agenda?
  • When was the information published?
    • Publication date is generally located on the title page or on the reverse side of the title page (copyright date).
  • Is the information provided by the source in its original form or has it been revised to reflect changes in knowledge?
  • Has the publisher published other works?
  • Is this information timely and is it updated regularly?
  • Is the publisher scholarly (university press, scholarly associations)? Commercial? Government agency? Self (“vanity”) press?
List of resources
  • Where else can the information provided by the source be found?
  • Is this information authentic?
  • Is this information unique or has it been copied?
Year of publication
  • Is this information current? Can you find more current or relevant information?
  • Is the cited information current? Make sure work is not based on outdated research, statistics, data, etc.
  • Is the information routinely updated?


What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?

Below is a chart developed by the USC Libraries instruction team that can help you distinguish between a scholarly [a.k.a., peer-reviewed or academic] journal article and a popular, general interest publication.

Content Feature


Popular Magazines

Trade Journals



Scholar or researcher in field with stated credentials and affiliations

Staff writer, journalist, often a generalist

Staff writer, journalist often with expertise in field

Staff writer, journalist, columnist

Sources and Documentation

All sources cited; extensive bibliographies, list of references, or notes

No formal citations; original sources may be obscure

No formal citations; may refer to reports; may include a bibliography

May refer to sources in text; no formal list of references

Editorial Process

Blind peer-reviewed [i.e., refereed] by multiple experts in the field

Reviewed by a single editor

Reviewed by a single editor

Reviewed by a single editor


To present research findings and expand knowledge in a discipline or specific field of study

To inform about current or popular events, issues, or popular culture; to entertain

To inform those working in the profession of events, products, techniques, and other professional issues

To inform about current events and issues internationally, domestically, and locally

Structure of Articles

Lengthy (10+ pages) articles divided into specific sections, such as, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion

Mix of short and in-depth articles on a wide variety of subjects

Industry specific articles of varying length; report news and trends but no original research

Brief articles, unless a featured item; may include original research written in a journalistic, investigative style

Frequency of Publication

Annually, semi-annually, quarterly, or monthly

Monthly or weekly

Monthly or weekly

Weekly or daily


May contain the words "Journal of", "Review of" or "Annals"; may contain the name of a discipline or subject area; may be lengthy

Straightforward; may address a general theme or subject; may be one word

Usually short and catchy; may contain the name of a trade or industry [e.g., Grocery Store News]

Simple; usually reflects a city or geographic location

Print Appearance

Plain covers that vary little from issue to issue; primarily black and white; mostly dense text with few graphics; pages may be consecutive throughout each volume

Very glossy and colorful; high impact visuals and design; some feature columns; many full page advertisements

Glossy with high impact graphics; regularly scheduled featured columns; pictorials of industry events; industry-related advertisements

Newsprint; lengthy and brief articles; regularly scheduled featured columns


Complex; follows academic writing style; includes discipline-specific jargon or technical terms

Simple and non-technical

Mix of jargon and technical terminology

Mix of simple and sophisticated


Complex tables or graphs to display research data; may have appendices

Photos and colorful graphics for visual impact or entertainment

Colorful graphics and photos for emphasis

Photos and graphics for emphasis


None, or limited to books, other journals, and professional meetings

Very frequent

Frequent, targeting a specific trade or industry

Very frequent

Intended Audience

Scholars, researchers, scientists, advanced students

General public

Industry members, professionals, and associated stakeholders

General public, some with specialization (e.g., Financial Times intended for readers in business)

Value and Usefulness in Research

Critical to understanding and analyzing a topic in detail and to design a coherent, well-organized original research study

Limited; news magazines, such as, Time are useful for following current events

Limited to understanding news and trends in specific industries and professions

Essential to following current events; provides local coverage of issues

Chapman, Julie M., Charlcie K. Pettway, and Steven A. Scheuler. “Teaching Journal and Serials Information to Undergraduates: Challenges, Problems and Recommended Instructional Approaches.” The Reference Librarian 38 (2002): 363-382; Cockrella, Barbara J. and Elaine Anderson Jayneb. “How Do I Find an Article? Insights from a Web Usability Study.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 28 (May-June 2002): 122-132; Usdansky, Margaret L. “A Weak Embrace: Popular and Scholarly Depictions of Single-Parent Families, 1900 - 1998.” Journal of Marriage and Family 71 (May 2009): 209-225.