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Using Databases for Your Research

Comprehensive overviews of how to search in popular databases provided by UD. Especially useful for anyone relying on these platforms for long-term research projects.

What is peer review? What does "Scholarly/Academic" mean?

What is "peer review"? Peer review is a process conducted by many academic publishers to assess author submissions before publication. It aims to ensure that the content being published (typically in an academic journal article or book) is written to the highest standard, adheres to subject-specific research methodology, and contributes something new to an academic field. Importantly, peer-review is done at the article level and published within a journal issue. There may be an editorial at the beginning of a journal issue that is not peer-reviewed, followed by a number of journal articles that are peer-reviewed. Similarly, an academic book (or monograph) published by an academic press might contain a collection of chapters published by different authors, each of which are peer-reviewed, with an introductory chapter by the editors that is not peer reviewed.

Different stages of the peer review process. Having a manuscript go through the peer-review process can take significant time, lasting for months or even years. Typically the process goes as follows:

  • A researcher in any field submits their manuscript to a relevant academic publisher for inclusion in one of their journals or for publication as a standalone book (also known as a monograph).

  • The editors of the publication review the submission to decide whether or not to send the manuscript to multiple subject experts (the "peers") for review. These peer-reviewers are experts in their field and are often (but not always) employed as faculty members at universities. 

  • The reviewers receive the manuscript with all information about the author and their institution removed. Making the manuscript anonymous helps ensure that the process is "blind," meaning that bias is removed in cases when the reviewers know the author(s).

  • The reviewers take time to review the submission and make suggestions on how to improve the work. The reviewers might also reject the work outright if they find it to be of substandard quality, or if they feel it is unoriginal. 

  • The author receives any recommended revisions or questions from the reviewers and is asked to implemented the changes. The author resubmits the revised manuscript. Once all requested revisions have been made, the peer reviewers and the editors of the journal will proceed with formally accepting the study for future publication.

What does "Scholarly/Academic" refer to? Peer-reviewed publications are often captured by a "Scholarly/Academic" filter in databases or by a "Peer Review" filter. Note: in most databases, the "Scholarly/Academic" filter will retrieve results that are mainly peer-reviewed studies, but not every single result will necessarily be peer-reviewed. Certain results can be "Scholarly/Academic" without being peer-reviewed. Accordingly, it is important to take additional steps to determine whether or not a study has been peer reviewed. Indicators of a peer-reviewed article or book chapter include:

  • Evidence of research, which can include either footnotes or a bibliography.

  • Evidence of expertise, as indicated in the author's credentials (also referred to as "author affiliation").

  • Explanation of research methodology.

  • Fairly plain journal format. Few photographs or illustrations, mostly charts or graphs.

  • Few advertisements.

Note: The word “Journal” in the title is NOT an indicator that you are looking at a scholarly journal. 

Where can I find a peer-reviewed study?

  • The short answer is to search in one or more of the library's many subject databases. Think of the library's databases as a more reliable place to locate peer-reviewed resources than commercial search engines such as Google (or even broad academic search engines such as Google Scholar). Being highly curated in terms of what titles are indexed, these search tools help to exclude sources that may be discredited or unreliable, such as predatory journals

  • Read the database descriptions when you are deciding which one to search. Many of the database descriptions provided in our a-z list will identify whether or not they contain peer-reviewed journals and/or monographs.

  • Many databases also provide convenient filters to limit your results to peer-reviewed studies. 

Checking for peer review in EBSCO's interface

The majority of EBSCO databases offer a reliable way to verify whether or not a specific journal is a peer-reviewed resource.

Follow these steps to determine if a journal publishes peer-reviewed articles.

  1. Select any of the EBSCO subject databases.

  2. Enter the journal's name. In the example included below in the screenshot, the example of "JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association" is searched in Academic Search Complete.

  3. Click on an individual search result published by the journal. This should open a page with information about the publication (see example in screenshot below). Within this page, select the link listed in the "Source:" field (as circled below). Search entry for JAMA search in Academic Search Complete with the "Source" field circled

  4. Upon clicking this link, a detailed page about the publication should open. Towards the bottom of the page, there should be a field for "Peer Reviewed." If the notation is "YES," then the journal publishes peer-reviewed articles, as can be seen in the following screenshot:

Screenshot of publication details record for JAMA, with the field confirming peer review "yes" circled


Understanding EBSCO icons

  • You will see icons to the left of individual results when searching in databases provided by EBSCO. These icons mean different things, and their meaning can also vary across different databases, but, in general, they mean the following:

    • Many EBSCO databases use the following icon to signify Academic Journal (which contain peer-reviewed articles)





  • Many EBSCO databases use the following icon to identify Periodical sources (which are not peer reviewed)

What is a "Primary Research Article"?

Keep in mind that primary research articles . . .

  • are original scientific reports of new research findings

    • do not include review articles, which summarize the research literature on a particular subject, or articles using meta-analyses, which analyze pre-published data

  • usually include the following sections: IntroductionMethodsResultsDiscussion, References

  • are peer-reviewed (examined by expert(s) in the field before publication)

    • a peer-reviewed article is not the same as a review article, which summarizes the research literature on a particular subject

Keep in mind that secondary sources . . .

  • are summaries or interpretations of original research – not the original research itself

  • are often useful and easier-to-read summaries of research in an area

  • references or citations can point the way to useful primary research articles.

  • acceptable formats may include books (find these through the library catalog) and review articles (articles which organize and critically analyze the research of others on a topic)

  • blogs, YouTube videos, newspaper articles, book reviews, press releases and .com websites are NOT among formats usually appropriate as sources in scientific research

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