Learn about peer review and the types of sources you are expected to use in this program. The short essays on this page will show you how to use our databases more effectively and how to examine popular sources on the internet.
What is Peer Review?
For almost all of your research, you will use scholarly, academic, or peer-reviewed sources.
Peer-reviewed sources are written by specialists for other specialists, are usually technical in nature, and present original research. Before publication, they are reviewed by experts to ensure that they meet certain standards—hence the term peer review.
Most of the resources in medical databases such as MEDLINE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews meet the standards for scholarly, peer-reviewed sources. However, it will always be your responsibility to ensure that the articles you use meet the requirements set by your professors.
Limiting to Peer-Reviewed Sources
The company EBSCO curates most of our databases; thus, they have a similar appearance.
After you conduct a search, you can usually limit results to peer-reviewed sources by selecting the option Peer Reviewed from the left sidebar (Figure 1).
Sometimes, this limiter is unavailable. However, you can still limit to specific Source Types, such as Academic Journals (Figure 2).
Although open-access scholarly publications exist, resources from the open web are not usually peer-reviewed.
Rather, they are popular. Some are high-quality, but just because a resource is reliable does not mean it is peer-reviewed.
The article depicted here (Figure 3) comes from the Mayo Clinic website. This article, though written by a medical professional, is intended for the lay reader. It has not gone through the peer-review process, nor does it present original research.
Most of the peer-reviewed journals on the internet are behind paywalls, which is why we subscribe to research databases. You can, however, find peer-reviewed articles on the internet by searching trusted sites such as these:
As a rule, if you cannot identify a scholarly journal or book in which an article was published, assume it is a popular source.
Searching in America
Many of the research databases provide resources from all over the world.
However, your professors will typically expect you to use articles published in the United States so you can learn standard American medical practices.
Limiting Your Search
In most EBSCO databases, after you have conducted a search, the limiters in the left sidebar will allow you to narrow your results. Usually, the Geography limiter is available (Figure 4); it can limit results to the United States.
Using Advanced Search
You can also limit by using the Advanced Search function, which will enable you to create a more complex or precise search (Figure 5). Different databases allow slightly different customizations.
Although the databases can assist you with their built-in fuctions, you must always evaluate your sources.
By examining an article, you can determine where it was published or where its research was conducted.
Sometimes the geographic origin will be obvious. At other times, you may need to seek for it. To learn about the publication of an article you find in an EBSCO database, you can select the link labeled Detailed Record (Figure 6).
The information in the detailed record should tell you the origin of the source. In the example in Figure 7, the geographic origin is not obvious from the title of the article or journal, but the detailed record reveals that this article is based on research conducted in Indonesia.
Your resources should be recent and in keeping with current practice.
In most databases, you can limit resources by date by adjusting the timeline slider in the left sidebar (Figure 8).
Generally, your sources should have been published within the last five years, but check with your professors for exceptions or more specific requirements.
If you are unable to limit by date automatically, you can still easily find the date of publication for books or peer-reviewed articles.
Popular Internet Sources
Figuring out the publication date of popular internet sources is not always easy and is sometimes impossible.
Usually, an article from a blog or online journal will include a date of publication, but you may have to search for it.
If there is no date of publication, the online source may be untrustworthy—unless it is on a site with an established reputation.
Keep in mind that a copyright date, which often appears at the bottom of a webpage, is not a date of publication. On many websites, the copyright notice updates automatically every year. Just because a website has a current copyright notice does not mean it contains current information.
See the research guide Research 101 for more advanced instructions on finding the date of a webpage.