Learning Objective

  • Define scholarly journals and scholarly articles and identify their key characteristics.
  • Understand how peer review is central to scholarly publishing.

Now that we know a bit about scholarly publishing and the promotion and tenure culture of academia, let’s hone in on the central mechanism through which academics learn about and share new knowledge and discoveries in their field: scholarly journals.

Scholarly journals — also known as academic journals, peer-reviewed journals, or refereed journals — are a specialized form of communication created for and by academics, scientists, scholars, and researchers. Scholarly journals — and there are thousands of them — are narrow in their focus, publishing research and scholarship of and for a specific academic discipline or field.

Scholarly journals are usually published at regular intervals, such as quarterly or bi-annually, and organized into volumes and/or issues. Each issue might have a single focus, so that the all the articles in that issue address a specific topic or theme.  Some scholarly journals act as the official publication of a specific academic society or organization.

Image showing a collage of scholarly journal covers. The journals overlap one another but several titles are visible, for example History & Theory, Centaurus, the Economic History Review, and Historical Research.
The Wiley Asia Blog: https://www.flickr.com/photos/78211992@N05/7675030908/ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Articles that are published in scholarly journals are called scholarly articles (or academic / peer-reviewed / refereed articles). Typically, these articles:

  • are lengthy (10+ pages)
  • written by credentialed experts in the field (scholars, researchers, academics, faculty members, and sometimes students) and read by those same groups of people
  • use specialized or technical vocabulary specific to the field
  • contain discrete sections (such as an abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion)
  • build on and cite (both in-text and with a bibliography) numerous other previous studies that relate to the topic at hand
  • feature evidence in the form of data, charts, graphs, and other products of the research

Scholarly journals are managed by an editor(s) who oversees the processes through which articles are received; accepted, denied, or revised; and published (or not). One of the most important characteristics of scholarly journals is that they use the peer review process to determine whether or not an article is accepted for publication.

Here is a brief overview of peer review from North Carolina State University Libraries:[1]


Peer review means that other experts in the field act as gatekeepers to publishing in a scholarly journal. They may have been recruited by the editor, or they may have come from a pool of names identified by the author and submitted to the editor along with the paper. In any case, it’s important to note that peer reviewers are themselves part of the academic system; they are faculty members, researchers, scholars, and scientists working in the same field (but at a different institution) as the author who submitted the article. This means that within higher education, faculty members are not only writing scholarly articles and reading scholarly articles, as we discussed in the previous chapter. They are also reviewing scholarly articles. Again, we see that academia is intertwined with scholarly publishing.

While there are different types of peer review, double blind — in which neither the submitting authors nor the reviewers know one another’s identity — is common. The idea is that concealing the identities of those involved will reduce potential bias, favoritism, or retaliation, so that the work can be evaluated on its own merit. The editor usually assigns more than one peer reviewer (often two or three, sometimes more) to each submission in order to compare the feedback and see if there is consensus as to whether or not the paper should be published. Many times, the peer reviewers identify areas where a paper needs revision or reworking; they send their comments to the editor, who in turn passes them on to the author. Finally, it’s important to note that peer reviewers almost always perform this work without pay. Being a peer reviewer is considered service to the profession, and there is the expectation that reviewers will do it without compensation in order to advance new knowledge in their field.

Exercise: Reflecting on Peer Review

Knowing what you do about peer review, have you heard of any critiques, or can you brainstorm any problems with or disadvantages of the system? What might be its shortcomings? How might they be addressed?

Additional Readings & Resources

Carroll, A. E. (2018, November 5). Peer review: The worst way to judge research, except for all the others. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/upshot/peer-review-the-worst-way-to-judge-research-except-for-all-the-others.html

Tennant, J.P., Ross-Hellauer, T. The limitations to our understanding of peer review. Research Integrity and Peer Review 5, 6 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-020-00092-1


  1. "Peer Review in Three Minutes." North Carolina State University Libraries. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2t9wKpm0Fo