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Finding journal articles and journals: Journal quality and peer review

A guide to finding journal articles and journals available to University members..

The quality of journals varies. How can you be sure you are using articles from the most reliable ones in your assignments? Here are some things to look out for.

Is it a peer reviewed journal?

Journals which have a peer review process are generally considered more reliable than other journals. All articles submitted to a peer reviewed journal are checked by other experts in the field before they are published.

Recently, there has been a growth in pre-print servers that host early versions of articles that are not peer reviewed in order to communicate findings as early as possible. As you may have found an article via a search engine rather than a journal or publisher website, it is important to make sure that you are aware of the peer review status of the article. 

Flow chart showing the peer review process from submission, to editorial checks, to reviewers, to acceptance or rejection

Types of review

1.Single blind review
  • Reviewers know who the authors are
  • Authors do not know who the reviews are
2. Double blind review
  • Reviewers do not know who the authors are
  • Authors do not know who the reviewers are
3. Open review
  • Reviewers know who the authors are
  • Authors know who the reviewers are

What do reviewers look for?

  • Is the approach appropriate?
  • Are the study design, methods and analysis appropriate to the question being studied?
  • Is the research question answered?
Originality and significance
  •   Is the study design innovative or original? 
  •   Does the study challenge or add to existing knowledge?
  •   Is the research question clear? Does it matter?
Journal standards
  • Does the paper fit the standards and scope of the journal

'Predatory' or less reputable journals - what are they and how to avoid them?

SharkThese journals publish articles without checking them for quality and legitimacy. They charge authors a fee but don't provide all the editorial and other services provided by reputable academic journals. They often approach academics or post-graduate students directly and pressure them into publishing with them.

As these are often Open Access journals, one way to check if it is a reputable source is to see if the journal is listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). This site only includes peer reviewed, Open Access journals that have fulfilled certain criteria to establish that they are reputable journals.

Finding peer reviewed articles

Search Summon

On the Library's Summon discovery service you can apply the 'Peer review' limit to your search results to restrict to the highest quality articles.

Search subject databases

Instead of using Google or Google Scholar to find articles, use the databases listed in your subject guide. Journals are carefully selected for inclusion in these databases and are usually peer reviewed (although they may also include non-peer reviewed titles such as trade journals if they are relevant). So you can be confident that articles you find on databases such as Web of Science and Scopus will be suitable for use in your academic assignments.

Checking if a journal is peer reviewed

If you are unsure about the quality of an article you wish to use, take a look at the instructions for authors on the journal's website and it should indicate if a review takes place.

Identifying the top journals in your subject area

You might be asked to use articles in journals which are highly ranked in their field but what does this mean and how do you identify suitable journals?

There are several measures that are used to rank journals in a subject area. All rely on the number of citations that papers in the journal receive from other researchers.

An important factor to remember is that the importance or significance of an individual article does not directly relate to the journal in which it was published - a poor article can be published in a 'top' journal and vice versa. 

Some of the most common measures used to rank journals are 

  1. Journal Impact Factor (JIF)
  2. CiteScore
  3. SCImago Journal Rank (SJR)
  4. Source-normalised Impact per Paper (SNIP)
Journal Impact Factor

The Journal Impact Factor indicates the frequency with which an average article from a journal is cited over a two year window. The higher the number the more impact the journal is deemed to have because its articles are being cited more frequently. Impact Factors are calculated for journals included in Science and Social Science Citation Indexes in the Web of Science database. Some journals choose not to be tracked for an impact factor due to concerns about the responsible use of journal metrics.

Many journals will display their impact factor on their homepage, but how do you know how that the claim is legitimate or how it compares with others? Search the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) database to find out. Note that the JCR only covers science and social science subjects.

  1. Login to the JCR via the link below.
  2. Select 'Browse by Category'
  3. Find the most relevant subject category in the list (click on the 'Category' heading to sort the list alphabetically) and click on the number of journals to a view a list with the most highly ranked journal at the top.

CiteScore is a similar metric to Journal Impact Factor but is calculated by the Scopus database rather than the Web of Science. It has a longer time window for calculating citations and so works well for subject areas where citations can be slow to accrue (for example arts and humanities).

  1. Log in to Scopus via the link below.
  2. Select 'Sources' from the top menu
  3. Search by subject category to view a list of journals ranked by their CiteScore value. If you click on a journal title, you can also find the SJR and SNIP values for the journal. 
Scimago Journal Rank 

The SJR is calculated using data from the Scopus database. It is similar to a page ranking system as citations are weighted according to the journal that they come from. If a journal receives lots of citations from high ranked journals, these will boost the ranking more than citations from lower ranking journals. The SJR values are available in Scopus and also from Scimago.

Source Normalised Impact per Paper (SNIP)

The SNIP value is calculated by the Leiden University's Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) and is based on Scopus data. The SNIP value measures the average citation impact of the publications of a journal and corrects for the differences in citation patterns between fields (not taken into account by the Journal Impact Factor). This makes comparisons between fields easier to make. The SNIP values are available in the Scopus database.