Medical Laboratory Science

Library of the Health Sciences

What is "peer review", and is it the same as "scholarly"?

People often use "peer review" and "scholarly" interchangeably, but they aren't the same.

Peer Review

An article has been "peer reviewed" if it has been reviewed by a group of the article author's peers prior to that article being published. Articles need to pass this peer review process before they are published, and sometimes articles have to undergo multiple rounds of review, with the author being required to edit anything from their grammar, to tables portraying data, to the structure of the article.

How do you know if an article has been peer reviewed?

There is one way to check for sure:

  • Look up the peer review process of the journal that published this article. The journal website should have a section discussing its peer-review process, and should also list the members of its editorial board (those "peers" who do the reviewing). It's a sign of a bad journal if it doesn't provide this info.

However, in practice, most people assume that research articles published on a journal and listed in a database provided by a university library will be peer-reviewed, simply because non-peer reviewed articles and journals wouldn't be accepted into library databases.

Scholarly-ness and levels of evidence

Sometimes, in the health sciences and biomedical disciplines, "scholarly" means a certain level of evidence. Different types of research are considered to be higher or lower levels of evidence, and are sometimes arranged in a pyramid, called "the Pyramid of Evidence":

Image result for primary and secondary research EBP

image: By CFCF -Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0


In the above pyramid, Meta-Analyses are considered the highest level of evidence, with Case Reports being the lowest. Some other pyramids place animal research on a level below that.


Sometimes when instructors say "Find a scholarly article", what they mean is "Find primary or secondary research carried out by a qualified researcher".


Primary Research

Primary research (also known as original research) is a direct or first-hand account of research or an experience. In primary research, the author is usually the one who carried out and is reporting about their research. Randomized control trials, cohort studies, and case control studies, etc., are all primary research.


Secondary Research

Secondary research is a second-hand account. Usually, in secondary research, someone other than the original researcher is writing about the research. Meta-analyses and Systematic Reviews are secondary research because the authors collect existing research, summarize the findings, and report about that. It is a good idea to include both primary and secondary research in your study, and beginning with secondary research can give you a quick birds-eye view of the current state of a field.