Geography courses / Kheirabadi: Evaluating Sources & Peer Review

Library resources to find sources that address the critical thinking questions in Geography courses.

What is Peer Review?

Infographic describing the peer-review process.

Scholarly? Professional? Popular?

When you have a research assignment, be sure to figure out what types of article sources are required or allowed. Some professors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals while others might let you use a variety of journals.

Scholarly article: Also known as peer-reviewed, academic, or refereed, these articles are written for researchers and experts and usually share the results of a research study. Scholarly articles are written by experts in the field and are reviewed by expert peers. In many databases, you can limit your search to scholarly, peer-reviewed, or refereed journals to weed out any non-scholarly content. Scholarly article example

Professional/trade article: Written for people working in a specific field. Articles can be written by experts in the field or by staff writers. The articles are only reviewed by journal editors, so they go through a less rigorous review process. Trade article example

Popular journals: Written for a general audience rather than for professionals or scholars, and written by journalists. Examples include The New YorkerPeople, and Rolling Stone. Popular article example

Test Your Knowledge: Scholarly, Trade/Professional, Popular

This quick quiz from the Ithaca College Library will test your knowledge and help you learn to tell the difference between different types of journals.


How Do I Know if a Source is Academic/Scholarly?

Decorative pictures of question marks

For any type of source:

  • Look up who wrote it. Are they a scholar affiliated with a university?
  • Most scholarly sources will document where their information came from with a works cited/bibliography/references at the end of their publication.
  • When in doubt, just ask a librarian.

If it's a journal article:

  • If you found the article in JSTOR you know it's from a scholarly journal since all of the content in this database is from peer-reviewed journals.
  • If you found the article in Academic Search Premier or the Library Article Search and limited your search to "Scholarly (Peer-reviewed) Journals" then you know whatever you found is from a scholarly journal.
  • If you're not sure a publication is scholarly, just Google that journal. Look at the official web page for the journal or a Wikipedia entry for the journal. The chances are good that one will make it clear whether or not the journal is peer-reviewed (it might also use a term like refereed). If it is peer-reviewed, then it's a scholarly journal. On the journal page, look for a page called something like "Instructions for reviewers" (which indicates that there are peer reviewers for the publication. 

If it's in a book:

  • Look at who published the book (it should state it in the first few pages). Is it a university press? The publisher's name will have the word "University" in it.
  • Look up the author. Are they affiliated with a university?

If it's from the Web:

  • Just because you found something through a Google search doesn't mean it can't be from a journal or book. Scholars frequently make their journal articles and book chapters available via the free web in a university repository or on their own website. Make sure it's definitely not a journal or book chapter first.
  • Another type of thing you might find online is a conference paper. These often look a lot like scholarly journal articles (they are written by scholars and include references to other sources), but are published as part of a conference presentation. It should say somewhere in the document which conference it is written for. These are scholarly.
  • Is the website associated with a university?
  • Is the author of the website a scholar affiliated with a university?