Wednesday, February 1, 2006

What Does "Peer-Reviewed" Mean?

If you've been asked to use peer-reviewed journals or articles in your research this means that you need material that has been critically assessed by experts or scholars in the author's field or specialty. Publishers of peer-reviewed (sometimes called refereed or scholarly) journals have a process where expert reviewers evaluate drafts of submitted articles before they are selected to be published. This ensures that the content of peer-reviewed articles is as valid and reliable as possible.

Peer-reviewed journals can often be identified by searching our library research databases. Many of those databases allow you to limit your search results to those journals that are peer-reviewed or scholarly. Another way is by looking at the journal's web site or within the journal itself. Some journals will identify themselves as peer-reviewed. You may also want to look at the editorial statements or instructions to contributors: within this information you will usually discover if a journal uses a peer-review process. For more details: Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Other Periodicals

Why Google should not be your first (or second) choice for academic-level research

While Google may be the first tool that pops into many students' heads when they need to find something, we're here to tell you that in regard to academic-level research, Google just doesn't cut it. Sure it's easy to use, but how accurate is it? How reliable and "scholarly" are the results you get, which often number in the thousands? The vast majority of "peer-reviewed" information is simply not available through Google. And while the use of Google does have a time and place for doing some research, that use should be as limited as possible. The following are reasons why Google (and Google Scholar to a lesser extent*) is not the answer, as well as suggestions for academic-quality library resources that you can use instead.

3 Reasons Google should not be used for your academic research:
  • Accuracy: there is no peer-review process for the vast majority of pages on the web. As a result, it is almost impossible to determine their accuracy, quality or purpose.
  • Authority: since anyone can publish a website and there is usually no control over it's content, it is often hard to determine who authored the page, what their qualifications are, or even that the page isn't deliberately deceitful.
  • Quantity: Google indexes billions of web pages and does not distinguish between academic information and the ravings of a madman. As a result, most searches in Google result in thousands or tens of thousands of results with very few relevant and "scholarly" sites.
*What about Google Scholar?
  • Better option than Google, but not as good as our library research databases; a subset of Google.
  • Indexes publicly-available papers, theses, and books; it is compiled by what a machine guesses is scholarly.
  • Results can't be sorted by date or publication, nor limited to peer-reviewed material.
  • The vast majority of results are not accessible in full-text at present.

Library Resources that should be your primary research tools**:

**Note: all of the resources above are also linked from the library home page:

Gale PowerSearch

Gale, which provides access to a wide variety of full-text resources, such as InfoTrac OneFile, Expanded Academic ASAP, Gale Virtual Reference, Custom Newspapers and many others, has implemented a new cross-database search interface called PowerSearch. You can now search across multiple Gale collections at the same time using a single interface. This includes thousands of journal, newspaper and encyclopedia titles.

This article is just an overview of some of the changes and features available. For more details go into the Gale databases and see for yourself! There is also a "? Help" icon in the upper right side of every page in the database.
PowerSearch is now the default search interface for all compatible collections and can also be used to search multiple collections at the same time. To do this:
  1. From the "All Research Databases" page, scroll down to "Gale Group" and click on "View/Select All" and login (college login and password required).
  2. The first page will show you which Gale collections are currently available for "PowerSearching" (this list will grow in the future). By default, all collections are selected, but you can click in a check box to select or deselect any. Also note that those "additional databases" that are not available for these features can still be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

  3. Click "Submit" at the top to get to the search page.

  4. ProQuest Powersearch databases
  5. The default search option is "Basic," but you can switch to other options, such as Subject Guide or Advanced Search by using the links in the light blue menu bar just above the search boxes.

  6. Note that you have several options within the Basic Search, such as where to search (subject, keyword, or full-text of articles), and limiting your search to peer-reviewed journals and or articles available in full-text within Gale.
  7. Gale Powr Search box
  8. The results page has also been improved in Gale. It now includes several very useful features:
  • Publication Type tabs: the default is to show magazine and journal results by date, but you can use these tabs just above the results display to view, if available, reference or news articles or multimedia files. Note that to see the limit options, click on the "More Search Options" link below the search box.

  • Subject Guide: to the left of the results, you will see a list of suggested subject terms deemed closest to the first keyword you entered in your search. Subject terms are assigned to each article based on their content and eliminate having to think of alternate terminology or synonyms, so using them is actually a much more precise way to search. Just click on a subject from the list to do a search of the subject field using that term.

  • Article Details: For each result, a citation is displayed containing title, author and publication information. Click on the title to access the record (if no full-text is available it will show you the abstract).
  • Article Shortcuts: the icons just below each citation give you a visual clue to the content. The little paper and or red Adobe icons indicate if full-text is available. Just click on an icon to go directly to that full-text. The pointing hand icon allows you to generate a properly formatted citation using either APA or MLA style. In addition, you can format it for plain text as well. There is also an option to format and export the citation(s) to bibliographic software, such as EndNote.
Powersearch results page

You can access the Gale collections by following the steps at the top of this article or going directly to the Gale Group login.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center

Addressing the complex issues that are part of today's current events can be challenging; especially if you are trying to critically evaluate and understand both sides of an issue in your research. Gale's Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center is a helpful tool for examining an issue from many perspectives. It presents facts about hundreds of controversial issues as well as the arguments of each topic's proponents and detractors. This database includes a wide variety of topics such as bioethics; drugs and athletes; genetic engineering; gun control; health care reform; nuclear weapons; right to privacy; and stem cell research.

Opposing Viwpoints Resource Center main pag The Opposing Viewpoints database is an easy-to-search online resource that provides viewpoint essays, full-text newspaper and magazine articles, statistics, primary documents, and web links on dozens of controversial issues to help you do your research. Opposing Viewpoints even includes a "Social Issues Research Guide" to help guide you through your research and writing. You can search by key word, author, title, and headline or simply select from a list of issues. You can access this database from the library home page ( and clicking on the link for "All Research Databases." Opposing Viewpoints is included in the "Gale" collection of databases. You'll need your MyESC username and password for access.