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Biology 130: Evaluation & Peer Review

Subject Guide

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Mike Goates
(801) 422-6012
Subjects: Geology, Life Sciences

Peer Review Tutorial


Peer Review – process by which articles are submitted to experts in the scientific discipline for comments and criticism before publication in a scholarly journal. Peer reviewed journals are also called "refereed."

Primary Sources – peer reviewed articles written by authors who actually performed an original experiment or are reporting their field observations (e.g., animal observations, medical patient case reports, etc.).

Secondary Sources – articles written by authors who summarize or discuss trends initially reported in primary sources. These can either be peer reviewed sources (e.g., review articles) or non-peer reviewed sources (e.g., books, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, etc.).

Review Articles – peer reviewed articles written by authors who summarize or discuss trends in the primary literature. Review articles are often published in the same scholarly journals as primary sources.

How to Evaluate an Information Source

There are a number of criteria to consider as you evaluate a source of information.  Unfortunately, there's not an easy checklist or form to follow.  Consider all of the criteria below, as a whole.  The more criteria your source meets favorably, the more likely it's reliable. 

"Quick Look" Criteria

You don't have to read the information content to look at these criteria.

  • Presence and authority of an author
  • Presence and authority of sponsoring organization or publisher
  • Currency
  • Cited sources
    • Presence
    • Number
    • Authority
  • Type of venue
    • Scholarly
    • Popular

Content Analysis Criteria

Read the content of the source to determine these criteria.

  • Intended audience
  • Intended purpose
    • To sell versus to inform
  • Coverage
    • Depth
    • Both sides of a controversial issue
  • Treatment and tone
    • Calm and detached versus emotion-arousing
  • Confirmation from other sources

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Journal Evaluation Tools

Citation Data

Citation data is a numerical tool for evaluation of individual articles.  In general, the more an article is cited in the reference lists of other articles, the more impact the article has had on the scientific community.  Look for the "Times Cited" information under each article in Web of Science.  Sort your results by "Times Cited" using the drop down menu at the top right to get a feel for the most important papers on your topic.